Saturday, May 22, 2004

SBC, union resume talks

Phone company dealing with four-day walkout

By T.A. Badger
The Associated Press

SBC striking
Bill Boone, 30, of Lancaster, a member of the Communication Workers of America Local 4325, stands in front of the SBC Communications building, in Lancaster, Ohio.
(William P. Cannon/AP Photo)

Less than a day into a four-day walkout over benefits and outsourcing, SBC Communications Inc. and a union representing the striking workers returned to the bargaining table to try to work out their differences.

After three days with no formal talks, negotiations between SBC - the nation's second-largest phone company - and the Communications Workers of America resumed Friday in Chicago and New Haven, Conn.

The union represents about 100,000 SBC employees. Workers started picketing Friday in the 13 states - including Ohio - where San Antonio-based SBC is the dominant local-phone provider. Their jobs as telephone operators, clerical workers, linemen and service representatives were being filled by 40,000 SBC managers and retirees.

In Ohio, SBC serves portions of Butler, Warren, Adams and Brown counties in Greater Cincinnati, plus Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo and other regions. Striking Ohio workers walked the line Friday in Middletown, Lancaster, Coshocton, Upper Arlington and Cleveland.

The company said its highly automated communications network was running at "its normal 99.99 percent reliability," though there have been some reports of difficulties. Thousands of managers and other workers had been trained recently

But in Detroit, Los Angeles and other cities served mainly by SBC, calls to directory assistance were answered with a recording that they could not be completed due to heavy call volume.

The strike at SBC is the biggest by a U.S. company since 1997, when 185,000 United Parcel Service Inc. employees walked out. It is the first at SBC since the company bought Ameritech Corp. in 1999.

The walkout could cause the company to miss customer-service quality standards set by some states, UBS AG analyst John Hodulik said.

SBC shares rose 2 cents to close at $24.33 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Contributing: Bloomberg News

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