Bell Atlantic Corp. and two labor unions representing 52,000 workers reached a tentative contract agreement yesterday, ending a grueling three-month bargaining marathon between the two sides.
The three-year contract still requires ratification by the membership of the Communications Workers of America, which represents about 40,000 Bell Atlantic employees -- 8,500 in Maryland -- and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents about 12,000 others outside the state.
No deadline for ratification had been set by either side as of late yesterday.
The tentative agreement calls for wage increases totaling 11.74 percent over the next three years and offers improvements to existing pension and profit-sharing plans.
The two sides agreed to put off the thorny issue of retiree health benefits until the next round of contract negotiations in 1995.
The two sides agreed to discuss the issue of telecommuting during the upcoming months. The union had strenuously objected to a Bell Atlantic proposal to allow up to 2 percent of the work force to work from their homes on company-supplied equipment.
The two sides agreed to set up an advisory council consisting of representatives of Bell Atlantic and the unions to ensure "a higher level of teamwork" between them in the future.
CWA, which had accused Bell Atlantic only last week of bargaining in bad faith, said it was pleased with the agreement.
"We're happy," said Charlie Buttiglieri, executive vice president of CWA Local 2101 in Baltimore.
Bell Atlantic had a similar view.
"We think this agreement is fair to employees and it addresses our need to be competitive in the years ahead," said Ken Pitt, a spokesman for Bell Atlantic, the Philadelphia-based parent of the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co.
With a tentative agreement in hand, the two sides will now move to settle a number of "local issues" related to work rules in the various localities served by Bell Atlantic.
Bell Atlantic has told the unions that if the local issues -- including the handling of work grievances and scheduling of overtime -- should be settled by midnight Friday, it would make the new wage rates retroactive to Aug. 9.
The agreement calls for three annual guaranteed increases in base wage rates -- 4 percent this month, 3.74 percent next August and another 4 percent in August 1994.
Other highlights include a cost-of-living adjustment clause that would take effect if the consumer price index should rise by 3.5 percent or more a year, a single payment of up to $600 each year under a corporate profit-sharing plan, and a pension enhancement intended to induce up to 3,500 employees to voluntarily retire by the end of this year.
Bargainers for Bell Atlantic and the unions have been meeting since mid-June to try to agree on terms for a new three-year contract.
Until last week, officials of both sides had said they remained far apart on a number of key issues.
Yesterday's agreement concludes bargaining with the regional phone company, which was the only one of the seven "Baby Bells" (created in the 1984 breakup of the AT&T telephone monopoly) unable to achieve contracts with its unions.
When the two sides were unable to come to an agreement three years ago, the union called a region-wide strike against Bell Atlantic that lasted 23 days.