Negotiations aimed at ending the 13-day-old strike against AT&T; have slowed to a virtual standstill and officials of the striking Communications Workers of America expressed fears Thursday that the strike may stretch into July.
Company and union sources said that despite federal mediation, the two sides remain far apart on many major issues, including the company's demand that it be allowed to eliminate a longstanding cost-of-living adjustment clause from the contract.
The union also contends that the company is attempting to extract concessions on work rules, job classifications and medical costs and is seeking elimination of night-shift differential pay and overtime pay for weekend work.
In interviews, letters to employees and newspaper advertisements, AT&T; has said that it is not asking for concessions.
Several Communications Workers officials asserted that AT&T; was dragging its feet in hopes that it would be able to play the CWA, which represents 155,000 AT&T; employees, against the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which bargains for 41,000 company employees. IBEW members will vote this month on a new contract with AT&T.;
On Thursday, the bargaining councils representing the 31,000 IBEW-represented employees at AT&T; manufacturing facilities recommended that those workers accept the company's "final" contract offer, which is essentially the same contract that the Communications Workers rejected. The contract eliminates cost-of-living adjustments for the next three years but includes an 8% wage increase over the same period.
These workers will vote on the contract this weekend and results are to be announced Monday. Earlier this week, another IBEW bargaining council recommended acceptance of the contract to the other 10,000 workers it represents at the company. They will vote by mail and results are scheduled to be announced July 5.
"We are most impressed with the vote the IBEW manufacturing council gave today on ratification," said Herb Linnen, a spokesman for AT&T.; "It's one more signal that the leadership of that union thinks AT&T;'s contract offer is fair. We would hope that the CWA's leadership, taking note of the IBEW voting, might now resume serious negotiations to bring the CWA strike to an end."
But he denied that the company was seeking to place the unions in conflict.
CWA officials said they would not be pushed into early settlement because of any actions by the IBEW. "We would rather that they had been with us all the way, but it's not going to have a significant impact on what we're trying to do," said Harry Ibsen, the Communications Workers' director for the region covering California, Nevada and Hawaii.
George Kohl, a research economist for the union, said the strike is costing the company $60 million a day, according to a "conservative study" by the CWA. AT&T; spokesmen said that figure is a gross exaggeration.