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SBC employees wrapping up strike

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

SAN ANTONIO -- After four days of being on strike, Monica Lailson is ready to get back to her job at SBC Communications Inc.

But she's also ready to again pull on her comfortable shoes and hoist her picket sign if SBC and the Communications Workers of America don't settle on a new contract soon.

"We've let people know that we're all together and we'll keep walking if necessary," she said Monday during a CWA rally outside the company's headquarters in downtown San Antonio.

The union, representing about 100,000 SBC workers, started its four-day walkout early Friday. The strike is scheduled to end early today.

Health-care costs and job security have been the major sticking points between SBC and the union, which represents the telecom giant's employees in 13 states.

CWA wants its workers to have access to positions in SBC's emerging technologies, including Internet support and wireless data service. That work is now handled largely by lesser-paid contract workers, many of them in India and the Philippines.

On health care, SBC wants higher medical co-payments that would double the average worker's health-care expense to $70 a month. The CWA workers do not pay monthly premiums for health insurance.

Negotiators put in long days over the weekend, and the bargaining continued into Monday among regional groups in Chicago; New Haven, Conn.; Austin, Texas; and Pleasanton, Calif.

Andy Milburn, CWA vice president for Texas and nearby states, said the company has been more willing to discuss the union's key issues.

"We've seen more movement since the strike began than in the 90 days of bargaining before it," he said. "We're hopeful that in the next few days we can get this wrapped up ... without a full-blown strike."

SBC spokesman Walt Sharp agreed Monday that progress was being made, but he wouldn't discuss whether breakthroughs might be near. He said SBC planned to welcome workers when the strike ends.

During the strike, about 40,000 SBC managers, contract workers and retirees filled in at service centers, spliced cable and made repairs. Sharp said the managers would go back to their regular jobs when the strike ends.

With 2003 sales of $41 billion, SBC is the nation's second-largest provider of local-phone service, with operations in Texas, Connecticut, California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Nevada.

It is also a major player in other telecom sectors, including long-distance phone, data and Internet services.

Hundreds of striking workers turned out for the 90-minute San Antonio rally, during which picketers carrying signs and American flags marched around the corporate office tower and loudly chanted "S-B-C, shame on you!" and "U-S-A! U-S-A!"


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