- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

Verizon Communications workers in the Mid-Atlantic region, the last holdouts of an 18-day nationwide strike against the company, began returning to their jobs yesterday.
About half of the 35,000 workers in the region were at their desk yesterday. The rest took advantage of a 72-hour grace period that the company allowed as part of the tentative agreement it reached with the union Wednesday night. The company should be up to full force by Monday.
Service-call representatives, operators and technicians in the New England, New York and New Jersey area are already in full operation. They reached an agreement with Verizon Sunday night.
Both agreements still need to be ratified by union members a process that could take up to three weeks.
Verizon held its own during the strike by having its 30,000 managers work 12-hour daily shifts. Some of them are now starting to get time off.
But those still on the job along with returning employees face a backlog of repair and new-service orders that is twice the normal workload.
Throughout Verizon's region of operation from Maine to Virginia more than 200,000 customers are awaiting new-service installation. About 41,000 customers in the Mid-Atlantic region alone also need their phones fixed, said Harry Mitchell, a spokesman for the company.
"There is a tremendous backlog," said Mark Ward, a service-call representative at a Verizon facility in Calverton, Md.
About half of his colleagues returned to work yesterday and some managers were still filling in for absent workers. The business office was low on staff, but almost the entire engineering unit returned, said John Jordan, an assistant engineer at the facility.
"I came in at 8 a.m. and I'll go home when I get enough work done," he said. "The department I work for handles service orders that were sent to the wrong facilities, and orders for people who want a third or fourth line. So we are just starting to dig through the piles we've got."
But most Verizon customers did not appear to be fazed by the strike. Complaints received at the region's utility regulators that cover phone companies were few during the past 18 days.
The District of Columbia Public Service Commission received about 45 complaints in total, an official at the agency said. Its counterpart in Virginia also received "few calls," according to a spokesman.
Only customers in Maryland appeared upset. The state's commission received five to 10 complaint calls daily.
"We were bombarded," said Chrys Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Public Service Commission. "A lot of the inquiries were about delays in getting service."
"We also had a lot of phone calls asking us to call the governor and the president of company and request that the strike end. But we usually don't get involved," she added.
With half of its Mid-Atlantic work force back on the job, Verizon faces about three to four weeks of overtime for everyone until the backlog is gone, company officials said.
"It's a very busy time because we are doing a lot of transitioning," said Sandra Arnette, a spokeswoman for Verizon in the District and Maryland.
"But it sounds like everything is coming together … these people have been out of work and not getting paid, so they are happy to be coming back."
Chuckles were exchanged among employees who returned to work yesterday, as they saw how management had handled their jobs in their absence.
"They've had 18 days to be brought up to speed, but we don't like to see them doing our work," Mr. Ward said.
His colleague Ines Mallard, another service-call representative, added, "I think management can appreciate our jobs a lot more now, as far as what we do and go through each day."
"But it's business as usual now, except that we have a better contract."
Wednesday's tentative agreement would give Verizon workers increases in wages, stock options, saving plans and pensions. It also would give the union the Communications Workers of America access to unionize the company's mobile division. Verizon did, however, establish a limit on the percentage of workers that could be unionized.
Union workers also won a limit on mandatory overtime. It went from 10 and 15 hours to 7.5 hours a week for call-service representatives and eight hours a week for technicians and operators.
But Verizon officials said the agreement still allows the company the flexibility it needs to remain competitive. The company stood its ground on keeping the right to choose which workers can transfer to jobs in the Internet division.
Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, announced yesterday it will become a public company.

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