- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Verizon Communications officials say the staffing shortages caused by the strike in the Mid-Atlantic region now in its 18th day is not affecting service much. But the strike is a major headache for those customers who have no phone service.
At F.J. Corbett & Co.'s new office in Merrifield, Va., 33 employees have no phone lines and are working via cell phones and by checking their voice-mail from their old office.
"We moved on Friday and couldn't get any phone service at all," said Howard Chapman, vice president of the construction company.
He spent four hours one afternoon last week speaking to workers at Verizon, explaining that the business could not operate without phones. Verizon finally turned on six lines the most it could manage without sending out a technician.
"But we need 21 to really operate our business," Mr. Chapman said. "So now we all have to call our old voice-mail system every half an hour."
Service-call representatives, operators and technicians, who are members of the Communications Workers of America, continue to strike as negotiations between their union and Verizon plod along.
Their 52,200 counterparts in New England, New York and New Jersey returned to work Monday after reaching an agreement for a three-year contract with Verizon Sunday night.
It's not clear how much longer the local strike will last. Workers have been on the picket line since Aug. 6, when their contract expired.
"I think it could be resolved quickly," said Eric Rabe, spokesman for Verizon.
"We don't consider them huge roadblocks," he said of the remaining issues. Those include mandatory overtime and work conditions for cable-splicing technicians in Pennsylvania.
"In New Jersey, for example, there aren't any limits on forced overtime in the new contract," said Candice Johnson, spokeswoman for CWA. "But there is a limit now in the [Mid-Atlantic], where it's up to 10 hours of overtime a week, and for five months of the year up to 15 hours a week."
Local workers want tighter limits in the new contract, she said. "But we are hoping that it all comes together."
Meanwhile, Washington-area customers of the nation's largest local phone company are experiencing delays in reaching information and operator services. But the most aggravating problem for them is not being able to get new services installed or their phones fixed when the lines die.
About 44,000 of Verizon's repair backlog of 73,000 requests yesterday were from clients in the Mid-Atlantic.
The strike has even affected freshly started law school lectures at Catholic University of America. When a telecommunications-regulation class met for the first time yesterday, the students found out their next two lectures for the televised class, which connects them to their counterparts at Florida State University, were canceled.
"The professor told us due to the Verizon strike, they can't get a line" through which to transmit the course, said one of the students.
On Florida Avenue NW near Adams Morgan, a new theater is facing major setbacks because it has no working phone lines.
Visions Cinema, a theater specializing in art and foreign films, opens Friday. The last-minute details are overwhelming, and having no phones has thrown employees into a frenzy, owner Andrew Frank said.
"We have had an order with Verizon for the last oh, a month already. They missed the first couple of install dates," Mr. Frank said. "Now we are not even having them do the service, we contracted out to NextLink, but they apparently are dependent on getting service from them as well, so they can't even help us."
Luckily for him, construction workers from F.J. Corbett & Co. let his office use the two lines they had while working on the Visions building.
"We've basically taken over their fax line and phone line because they are the only phones here," said Mr. Frank, who is waiting for the installation of 10 phone lines and high-speed Internet.
"The order is outstanding for over a month, and they haven't responded to us, haven't done anything, and we have no phones," he said. "It's very frustrating."
An informal survey by the Washington Board of Trade shows how even small snags with phone service can make the daily office routine difficult.
One staff director there found out directory assistance has been giving her number to callers who actually were requesting a contact at the Federal Trade Commission.
Mary Anne Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the Board of Trade, also recalled an executive assistant at a local business association telling her she spent half a day trying to get her doctor's office to call in a prescription because she couldn't get the phone number for her local CVS store.
"And last week I needed the address for this restaurant, and I couldn't reach directory assistance to get it," said Ms. Reynolds, who finally looked up the number on line. "That's not a problem, really, but it is a problem when it's the middle of the day and you need to call and make a reservation."
Residential clients of Verizon also have been affected.
Denise Buckneberg moved to a Falls Church, Va., town house the weekend the strike began. She called to request a line and was told she wouldn't get it until the strike ended.
Two weeks later, she is still without service.
"I tried calling some other phone services too, but they were mostly for business services," she said. "So now if I want to make a phone call, I either have to do it at work or ask my roommate to use her phone."

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