Union overwhelmingly ratifies contract with Bell Atlantic

February 23, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

After months of bitter confrontation with Bell Atlantic Corp., members of the Communications Workers of America ratified a new labor contract by a thumping majority, the company and the union said yesterday.

The contract, which will provide workers with a 10.6 percent raise over three years, replaces a contract that expired last August. The pact covers about 34,000 employees of the Philadelphia-based telephone company, about 8,000 of whom work in Maryland.

"I'm delighted we resolved differences and achieved a consensus that benefits both the company and our employees," said Tyler Williams, Bell Atlantic's vice president for labor relations.

In the end, the contract won easy approval. Union spokesman Doug Thompson said 85 percent of the union's members at the company voted to ratify.

But the vote was about the only easy step in the entire process. Although it never escalated to a strike, the acrimonious dispute took a severe toll on the morale of both management and workers.

Last month, Bell Atlantic became the last of the seven regional Bell companies to reach an agreement with the CWA -- but only after the union launched a sophisticated advertising campaign that questioned not only the company's benevolence but also its commitment to quality.

"This was the first time we went after a company this large using mobilization rather than a strike," Mr. Thompson said. "It was harder than I thought it would be."

Besides the raise, the union won a $1,500 ratification bonus, improvements in pension and health benefits and some additional job security guarantees. The CWA also fended off a controversial company proposal to make some retirees contribute toward their health coverage.

But the company also made some important gains, winning new flexibility in how it pays employees who handle home installations. In some cases, the employees will earn only 70 percent of the salary of current network technicians.

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