Bell strike deadline imminent, says union Workers rally to TC protest company's stance in negotiations

November 19, 1995|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Leaders of Bell Atlantic's union, with newly elected AFL-CIO President John Sweeney joining in, told thousands of workers rallying yesterday against the telephone company in the parking lot at Camden Yards that a strike deadline will be set soon.

"We must soon use the ultimate weapon," said Pete Catucci, chief negotiator for the Communications Workers of America, which represents 37,000 mid-Atlantic employees of the Philadelphia-based company.

"Unless and until we set a firm strike date, I don't believe anything will happen." He said later a deadline will possibly be set within the week.

Mr. Sweeney, who was elected last month, offered his support.

"We're here to deliver a message to Bell Atlantic, to Congress, the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board. We will not give in to corporate greed. This is not an ordinary confrontation about wages," Mr. Sweeney said. "This is about union busting and job destruction."

Mr. Sweeney cited higher Bell Atlantic profits and valuable stock options granted company Chairman Raymond W. Smith as proof of the union's cause. "We're going to spend whatever it takes and stick with it as long as it takes," he said.

He praised the tactics CWA has used against Bell Atlantic, telling workers that "all of us will benefit from your tough work here. What you're doing is an inspiration to us all."

Bell Atlantic employees including 10,000 in Maryland, have been working without a contract since Aug. 5. Contract talks began in June. Although negotiations are continuing, both sides report no progress and blame the other for the impasse. Six other regional Bell companies have agreed on contracts without rancor.

Instead of striking, the union has used a work-to-rule slowdown and has spent millions on an advertising campaign painting the company as "the heartless communicator" to try to induce a settlement.

Bell Atlantic spokeswoman Joan Rasmussen said: "Union leadership has not negotiated seriously, and it's too bad for members. They're trying to coerce the company into a contract on their terms." The union's charges are merely a smoke screen, she said.

A new company contract offer includes wage increases of 10.2 percent over three years, a $1,000-per-worker signing bonus, and corporate profit sharing worth $350 a year, she said.

But 30-year Bell Atlantic service technician Larry O'Brien, 53, said he came from Pittsburgh to attend the rally because of company demands that retirees start paying more of their own hospitalization costs, and to stop company efforts to create nonunion subsidiary firms which he believes will eventually take his job away.

"They want us to sign a contract that would give away our jobs in a couple years," he said.

The crowd, many dressed in red and white with children in tow, cheered as speakers led chants of "Hey, hey, ho ho, Ray Smith has to go," referring to Bell Atlantic Chairman Raymond Smith.

Police estimated the crowd at about 2,000 people, while union leaders said 6,000 to 7,000 was more accurate. The 1 p.m. rally was followed by a spirited march east on Pratt Street to the Bell Atlantic building at Pratt and Light Street.

The rally, staged beside Oriole Park, also drew CWA members from Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland, said Charles Buttiglieri, executive vice president of CWA Local 2101.

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