New pact nearly completes the connection between AT&T and unions

An end to the two-week-old nationwide telephone strike now depends on the outcome of intense bargaining in 34 regions on a wide range of local issues. While often troublesome, these issues are expected to be cleared away quickly this week, observers say.

This shift in focus to local issues comes after the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and two other unions reached a tentative agreement with American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) late Sunday. CWA president Glenn Watts said Sunday that the 525,000 striking members of his union could resume work as early as Thursday.

Mr. Watts said the pact has ''broken real ground'' and offers greater job security as technology changes in the telephone industry. He is telling members across the country that the agreement is ''indeed a victory'' for CWA.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Telecommunication International Union (TIU), representing another 150,000 strikers, also are covered by the agreement.

Under the new contract, telephone workers employed five years or longer would receive an immediate 5.5 percent wage hike (about $30 a week). According to the CWA, about 90 percent of its members would qualify for this provision.

Wages will rise another 1.5 percent annually in 1984 and 1985 for a total wage increase of 8.5 percent over three years. Those covered also will receive raises to cover 75 percent of increases in the cost of living.

Over the life of the contract, a typical Bell System employee earning $12.33 an hour will receive raises to $14.36 an hour, exclusive of cost-of-living increases. The new contract also provides benefit increases, including higher pensions.

The CWA also claimed victories against AT&T requests for ''give backs'' on such issues as demands for employee contributions toward medical insurance and reductions in night-shift premium pay.

Watts said, ''We have broken real ground in winning contract protection against the phase-out of jobs and employee displacements as technological changes occur.''

AT&T initially offered a 2.7 wage increase and sought offsetting savings through contract changes on a number of labor-cost items. Rex Reed, AT&T vice-president for labor relations, said the agreement is considered ''a balanced settlement . . . one that serves all parties quite well.''

Within the industry, the terms, which will increase labor costs by about $3 billion, are considered likely to add pressures for higher charges for services. The breakup of the Bell System ordered by federal courts effective next Jan. 1 already has been expected to boost local telephone rates.

Terms of IBEW and TIU contracts are similar to those of the CWA.

Contracts must be ratified by those covered, a process that usually takes two to three weeks, but union officers say strikers will be asked to return to jobs as soon as local issues can be cleared away.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.