Bell talks on contract broken off


Talks between Bell Atlantic Corp. and unions representing nearly 52,000 employees broke down last night, with union negotiators accusing the company of bargaining in bad faith on a number of issues.

Charlie "Boots" Buttiglieri, executive vice president of Local 2101 of the Communications Workers of America, said a key sticking point for his union was health-care benefits for retirees. Mr. Buttiglieri said Bell Atlantic wants retirees to pay up to 50 percent of their health-care costs in the future.

"That's the one issue that we will not be able to settle with," Mr. HTC Buttiglieri said. He said the union and Bell Atlantic remained far apart on a number of other issues including job security.

Union workers are expected to report to their jobs as usual this morning. They are working under their old contract, which was scheduled to expire at midnight Aug. 8.

Talks have not been rescheduled. Larry Plumb, a Bell Atlantic spokesman, said last night, "We're ready to talk any time."

Late yesterday afternoon, Bell Atlantic had requested a formal meeting with union bargainers to present a full offer last night. Mr. Plumb said the union called back about an hour later and refused the request. He said informal discussions also broke off, and union bargainers left the Washington hotel where discussions were being held.

Earlier, the mood had been upbeat at the Washington headquarters of the Communications Workers of America. Union bargainers said they had been told by Bell Atlantic to expect a complete proposal from the company in the afternoon.

For weary union bargainers, that message from Bell Atlantic was the first indication in weeks that the laborious negotiation process, now in its second month, might be drawing to a close. But by late afternoon, no proposal had arrived.

Jay Grossman, a Bell Atlantic spokesman, said yesterday that he was not aware that the company had promised to come up with a new offer by yesterday afternoon. "There's been no change," he said, referring to company efforts to complete a new three-year contract.

That came as news to the CWA, which was still waiting at 5 p.m. for a proposal from Bell Atlantic.

"They've lied to us for the last three years," said Pat Shelor, a CWA spokesman. "Why should this be any different?"

The CWA represents 40,000 workers -- 8,500 in Maryland -- and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represents 12,000 workers.

During a strike, local phone service probably would not be affected because the network is highly automated. Bell Atlantic has contingency plans for non-unionized workers and managers to temporarily staff jobs now held by unionized workers.

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