NEW YORK -- Thousands of workers at Bell Atlantic walked off the job this morning as the telephone company and two unions failed to reach agreement before the workers' old contract expired at 12: 01 a.m.
The workers began their strike after a day of tense talks between Bell Atlantic and the two unions, the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The two sides voiced optimism that they might still be able to reach an agreement today and thus keep the strike very short and the disruption to a minimum.
"We hope to keep negotiating," Jeffrey Miller, CWA spokesman, said just after midnight. "The talks haven't really broken off.
"We just ran up against the deadline, and our members are adamant that they're not going to work without a contract. So therefore we're on strike. We hope to keep negotiating and work out a settlement."
The strike by 85,000 workers is not expected to disrupt normal service for Bell Atlantic's 26 million customers from Maine to Virginia (Bell Atlantic has about 7,200 workers in Maryland).
But the strike will cause delays in reaching directory assistance, in making operator-assisted calls, in contacting business representatives and in having service repaired or new lines installed.
Union officials said the main sticking point was the union's efforts to get Bell Atlantic to stop expanding its nonunion subsidiaries and to stop moving work done by unionized workers into those subsidiaries.
Miller said: "The main problem area remains that whole area of the jobs of the future at Bell Atlantic and whether there's going to be good high-skill, high-wage jobs or whether the jobs of the future are going to be marginalized and substandard."
The union also said that shortly before midnight that it had reached a tentative agreement with Bell South. The settlement averted a strike that was scheduled to begin this morning.
Miller said that the phone company workers have a long tradition of walking out as soon as their contract expires unless a new agreement has been negotiated. He said repair workers and operators began picketing this morning at a Bell Atlantic building at 40 West Street in Manhattan.
Phone company and union officials said that two sets of negotiations were held yesterday in New York City and in the Washington area. The negotiators had been seeking to reach a single contract, although there will be some separate contract language for employees who worked for Nynex and employees who worked for Bell Atlantic, before the two companies merged.
To step up pressure on the phone company, thousands of Bell Atlantic workers staged a wildcat walkout for 2 1/2 hours Friday throughout New York state.
Pub Date: 8/09/98