AT&T ruling may rock the contract 'boat' for communication unions

By , Labor correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Unions representing hundreds of thousands of telephone company employees are ''deeply concerned'' about the recent out-of-court settlement between the US Justice Department and American Telephone and Telegraph Company.

Leaders for the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) say the antitrust agreement may cast a shadow over the stable labor relations the Bell System has enjoyed since 1974.

The Jan. 11 consent decree allowed AT&T to retain its Long Lines Division, the Western Electric Company (its manufacturing operation), and Bell Labs (AT&T's research and development arm). It required AT&T to divest itself of its 22 local and regional operating companies.

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On Jan. 12, a US district court judge refused to dismiss the federal suit. He said he was concerned that the settlement had been approved without a review of its impact on the public interest, as required by law.

But this has done little to ease uncertainty. Most concerned are workers in phone companies across the US - the large majority of telephone workers. Morton Bahr, New York regional director of CWA, says,''from the standpoint of employees , it's happier to deal with a company (AT&T) that never cries poverty and with which we have established excellent labor-management relations after many difficult years. Now we'll have to enter the unknown in bargaining. We'll have to negotiate with 22 individual companies or some combination of those companies.''

Mr. Bahr also is concerned about the overall quality of phone service in the future and the ability of the country's poor and elderly to afford service when, inevitably, monthly charges for basic local service rise.

Those remaining on AT&T payrolls are happy with the decree. They expect AT&T to grow tremendously by expanding into new communications fields. Al Cereno, president of an IBEW local at Western Electric installations in the Newark, N.J. , area, says the change can mean ''more work now. . . .'' Western Electric once employed 22,000 workers in the area, but employment now stabilized at about 6, 500.

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