- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A union locked in intense negotiations with Verizon Communications sued the regional telephone company and two executives yesterday for monitoring the union’s conference call with reporters last week about its new service-switch campaign.

The Communications Workers of America’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in New Jersey, says Verizon and the two executives violated federal wiretapping laws by accessing the call and failing to announce their presence.

“This is an outrageous throwback to the old days of labor turmoil before the Wagner Act of 1935 finally outlawed the practice of management infiltration and spying on union activities,” union President Morton Bahr said in a statement.

But Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe said the two officials were given access after identifying themselves to the call operator.

The officials are Thomas Bartlett, senior vice president for investor relations, and Dominic Di Bucci, executive director of investor relations.

Mr. Rabe said news reports that day detailed the union’s plans to urge customers to agree to drop Verizon services or switch carriers in support of 73,000 Eastern telephone operators and technicians who have been working without labor contracts since Aug. 3.

“There was great interest around the company in what the CWA was up to,” Mr. Rabe said.

The union’s campaign “poses a specific threat to Verizon and the financial markets,” which was why officials from investor relations accessed the call with the toll-free number widely made available to reporters, he said.

“Frankly, I think it would have been irresponsible for them not to,” Mr. Rabe said.

The union, with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, has been negotiating with Verizon since June. Government mediators joined the talks to successfully avert a strike planned for Aug. 3.

The call dispute follows another legal spat over the union’s use of Verizon Wireless’ advertising slogan, “Can you hear me now?”

After the union used the slogan in its labor campaigns, Verizon Wireless sued in December, claiming trademark infringement and other charges. CWA agreed to provide 30 days written notice to the company if it resurrected the slogan in future campaigns.

Verizon Wireless sent a letter to a labor arbitrator involved in separate negotiations with the cell-phone division, complaining that a CWA official had used the slogan in last week’s conference call.

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