Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Accords at Baby Bells

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Accords at Baby Bells

Article excerpt

Five regional Bell telephone companies signed tentative 3-year collective bargaining agreements with one or both of their two major unions, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). These contracts settled disputes over wages, job security, pensions, and health insurance costs. The pacts cover more than 200,000 telephone operators, clerical employees, sales and business representatives, lineworkers, and other production and maintenance workers at Ameritech, BellSouth, Pacific Telesis, Southwestern Bell, and US WEST.

The two unions and the five Bell operating companies began separate negotiations in June to replace contracts that were scheduled to expire in August. Early settlements had already been reached at NYNEX by the CWA and the IBEW in March 1994 and at Bell Atlantic by the IBEW in May 1995. (See Monthly Labor Review, January 1995, p. 35, and August 1995, p. 74.)

The Bell contracts expired in August without the parties reaching an agreement. Four of the contracts - at Ameritech, BellSouth, Pacific Telesis, and SouthWestern Bell - were then extended on a day-to-day basis, although employees had authorized strikes at some of the companies.

The first of the five recent settlements was at SouthWestern Bell, where the company and the CWA agreed to a contract covering some 39,000 workers in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The pact provides wage increases averaging 11 percent over the term of the contract plus "significant job upgrades." Other terms establish a "variable pay plan"; increase flexibility in scheduling time off, introduce a pretax medical reimbursement account, and add a new employment security provision that increases employees, flexibility in "surplus situations."

One day later, Pacific Telesis and BellSouth negotiated similar accords with the CWA. Both contracts called for wage increases of approximately 11 percent over the 3-year term for most bargaining unit employees. The Pacific Telesis accord covered 58,000 workers in California and Nevada. The BellSouth agreement covered 58,000 workers in nine southeastern States, including North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

In addition to the wage increases, the Pacific Telesis accord calls for a 14-percent boost in pension benefits, a $16 million training and retraining program, enhancements in work and family life provisions, and improved health care benefits. The pact includes a number of provisions protecting employees adversely affected by downsizing, including an enhanced severance package with continuation of health care benefits for a specified period, and a new voluntary retirement option that credits employees with 4 additional years of age and service and provides retirees with an additional 30 percent in pension benefits to be paid as a supplement until they reach age 62. Other employment security-related provisions enhance employees, transfer rights, and offer more options for employees who are facing layoff, including a 20-percent increase in relocation allowances and greater opportunity to voluntarily transfer within the company. …

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