SBC workers hopeful for strike resolution

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 24, 2004

The cars entering Ironton from State Route 93 slow down just long enough to read one of the signs and then some of the drivers lay on their horns.

"This is a union town," David Berry, of Minford said. "Even though it's a little rusty now,

there is support for us."

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Berry was one of a dozen striking SBC workers standing on the picket line on Park Avenue this morning in front of the telephone company's Ironton office. The men said they were bolstered by the number of people who have either honked their car horns as they drove past or stopped and personally pledged their support.

"Some people at BP brought us water," Jeff Frisby, of Flatwoods, Ky., said. "They (at the BP station across the street) have let us use their (restroom) facilities. People have brought us donuts."

Tim Yaniko of Pine Grove said he would rather not be on the picket line and is hopeful the issues dividing the union and management can be resolved. But he said workers are upset that the company is asking workers to make sacrifices when the company is making a profit.

"I wouldn't care to give back if the company was doing bad. But if they're doing so well they can give big bonuses - don't take away from us," Yaniko said.

Workers went on strike Friday, citing a stalemate on the issues of health care and job security.

Local media inquiries are being directed to SBC offices in Chicago. Telephone calls to that location were not returned as of this morning. According to reports from the Associated Press, SBC spokesman Walt Sharp said while the company's profits were $78.5 million last year, the company's revenue, particularly in its core local-phone sector, has declined for 10 consecutive quarters.

On job security, SBC CEO Edward Whitacre has said the union would be considered for positions in emerging technologies if their cost structure is similar to that of the contractors now doing the work. Union officials say that is a hollow offer, since much of that work is being performed now in low-wage India and the Philippines.

SBC officials have repeatedly said that it is feeling tremendous pressure to control expenses because of growing competition from other telecom providers.

It points out that, unlike at many other companies, its health-care offer doesn't require workers to pay a monthly premium. SBC's proposed hike in co-payments would make workers pay about 10 percent of their medical costs, double what they pay now.

After three days with no formal talks, negotiations between SBC and the Communications Workers of America resumed Friday afternoon in Chicago, New Haven, Conn., and Pleasanton, Calif. CWA spokeswoman Candice Johnson said bargaining was scheduled to start later in the day in Austin, Texas.