Strike Begins at AT&T; After Late Talks Fail

Times Staff Writer

A nationwide phone strike against American Telephone & Telegraph Co. began early this morning, but company officials said most customers would feel little immediate impact.

The Communications Workers of America, representing 155,000 long-distance operators, installers and repair personnel, called the strike just after midnight Saturday after more than six hours of last-ditch negotiations with AT&T; failed to produce agreement on a new three-year contract. The old pact expired at midnight.

“There will be pickets set up across the country,” CWA spokeswoman Rozanne Weissman said at a news conference. She said negotiations were continuing, but “it’s unlikely a settlement can be reached because the issues we are dealing with are quite complex.”


The strike was the first against AT&T; since 500,000 members of the CWA and other unions walked out for a three-week period in August, 1983.

Company spokesman Herb Linnen said AT&T; made a late-hour offer of a 7% wage increase over three years--up from its previous 5% offer--but a union official said the proposal was “still inadequate.”

“AT&T; is disappointed in the union’s action,” Linnen said. “We believe a settlement is possible . . . but obviously more progress is needed to get one.”

In much of Southern California, operator service, such as information assistance, is provided by Pacific Bell operators, not AT&T;, and a Pacific Bell spokeswoman said late Saturday that operator service within the 213, 818, 714 and parts of 805 area codes should not be affected by the strike.

Some Calls May Be Delayed

But callers wanting operator-assisted long-distance calls out of the area may face “some delay,” said AT&T; West Coast spokesman Jeffry Davis, both in getting a call through and in getting an operator to answer.

AT&T; told many of its managers nationwide to be ready early this morning to start handling collect long-distance calls and other services normally requiring the assistance of AT&T;'s 36,000 unionized operators.

Local telephone service will not be affected, nor will directory assistance or the repair of downed wires because these tasks are handled by employees of local phone companies that have not been a part of AT&T; since its 1984 corporate breakup.

AT&T; officials said the strike will have no significant impact on long-distance calling because 90% of the daily volume of 33 million calls is connected automatically without operator assistance. However, the company said its 26 manufacturing plants in 18 states, already closed for the weekend, will remain shut indefinitely, and some of its 700 Phone Center stores also will be closed.

Impact on Business Customers

But Weissman said business customers would feel the effect of the strike because “our members build, maintain, install and repair large business equipment.”

Negotiators for both sides said the principal issues left unresolved were wages and the company’s demand for changes in job classifications, and eventually the pay scales, of some of AT&T;'s 20,000 “systems technicians.” Union officials also said they rejected contract language they claimed would have given AT&T; excessive freedom to shift manufacturing overseas at the expense of American jobs.

AT&T; had initially offered wage increases to CWA members of 1% this year to be followed by 2% boosts in 1987 and 1988--a total of 5%. But the union rejected these as “an elephant giving birth to a gnat.” The company also proposed eliminating annual cost-of-living increases, which have been enjoyed by telephone workers since 1972.