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Strike Averted at AT&T; Information Systems

Times Labor Writer

The Communications Workers of America announced here Wednesday that a nationwide strike by 50,000 workers against a major unit of AT&T; has been averted after a week of “intense negotiations.”

The union members had threatened to walk off the job Friday morning.

Negotiators for the union and American Telephone & Telegraph met in Washington during the last week in an attempt to resolve disputes over AT&T;'s decision to eliminate 24,000 jobs while at the same time increasing its subcontracting of traditional telephone work to other companies.

Communications Workers President Morton Bahr, who is here for the AFL-CIO’s biennial convention, said that company officials told him that the number of layoffs proposed and the amount of subcontracting that it was doing “both have been substantially reduced.”

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Full Monthly Disclosures

He said that AT&T; Information Systems, the unit of the company that faced the strike threat, agreed to provide full monthly disclosures and quarterly projections of all subcontracting of traditional telephone work. Bahr called this “a historic breakthrough.”

Bahr said the agreement reached early Wednesday was the most substantial that an industrial union in the United States had gotten from a company on disclosure of information about subcontracting. He said that this was a particularly noteworthy achievement because a recent National Labor Relations Board decision said that a company did not have an obligation to provide a union with such information.

John H. Rufe, AT&T; Information Systems vice president of personnel, said: “We are pleased that we have been able to avoid a strike so we can continue serving our customers and strengthening the competitiveness of our business.”

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Cost-Cutting Move

AT&T; announced Aug. 21 that its Information Systems unit would lay off 24,000 workers as a cost-cutting move. About 17,000 of those employees are represented by either the Communications Workers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or a smaller independent union. The Communications Workers immediately objected to the layoffs, particularly since many of the affected employees were working overtime and could not comprehend how their jobs could have been deemed “surplus,” Bahr said.

In response to the company’s move, a month ago the union initiated a boycott of voluntary overtime work, started preparing for a strike and filed federal unfair labor practice charges against the AT&T; unit.

Bahr said the number of Communications Workers members threatened by layoffs at the AT&T; unit in 1985 has now been reduced to 4,100 from 9,100. He said that he was pleased with this development but that the union would continue its efforts to prevent any layoffs.

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Meanwhile, the union’s NLRB case against the company is still pending. That complaint, Bahr said, is based on a pre-divestiture memorandum between the union and AT&T; that said that workers who transfered from a Bell System operating company to AT&T; “would not be subject to layoff or reduction in wages or benefits for at least seven years.”

AT&T;, which was split off from its operating companies in January, 1984, has responded that the union has misconstrued the nature of that agreement. “Our agreement with the union doesn’t afford guarantees against layoffs,” said John Geoghean, AT&T;'s media relations manager. “It does guarantee that employees covered by its terms will get preference in rehiring if they are laid off, but it doesn’t say they can’t be laid off,” he added.


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