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Unions hang up on Ma Bell, but customers' calls still go through

Telephones continue to ring across the country, despite a strike by 675,000 phone company employees. Contracts between the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T), the Communications Workers of America (CWA), and two smaller unions expired at midnight Saturday. When no agreement was reached, the CWA adhered to its ''no contract, no work'' policy and called the 525,000 AT&T workers it represents off the job.

CWA president Glenn Watts said the union regretted the strike, but described the company's latest contract proposal as unacceptable. ''Our executive board turned it down unanimously,'' he said.

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The issues in the dispute include job security, as Ma Bell prepares to go through divestiture. Also under discussion are higher wages, cost-of-living increases, and pension improvements. But bargaining problems have been aggravated by what CWA officials say is AT&T's insistence that many issues that used to be handled through national talks now be referred to local bargaining.

According to John C. Carroll, cochairman of the CWA negotiating committee, ''AT&T refuses to deal in national bargaining . . . in the areas of employment security, wages and wage-related improvements, job pressures, union-management relations, and other matters, including the subcontracting of work.''

For years, the CWA fought to establish national bargaining on major contract issues. The CWA expects to bargain separately with each of the seven new regional phone companies in the next negotiations in 1986, so it is trying to salvage as much of its national negotiating policy as it can this year.

While neither CWA demands nor AT&T's offer were made public immediately, the union is reported to want wage increases of about 28 percent over three years, while AT&T's proposals would freeze wages of newly hired or inexperienced workers (they would get a one-time, $2.50-a-week raise), and would boost pay of higher-bracket workers about 3.5 percent a year, or 10.5 percent over the life of the contract.

AT&T said that general phone service won't be seriously affected by the walkout, which also involves the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (representing 100,000 workers) and the Telecommunications International Union (representing 50,000). These two unions, although negotiating separately with AT&T, usually follow the CWA's lead.

AT&T has mobilized white-collar employees to maintain near-normal services. Home repair service and installations will be hardest hit by the strike. Strikers in New York and San Francisco say they believe public pressure will mean that the stoppage ''won't last very long - a week or two at most.'' However , many local phone company officials say serious negotiations may not resume for another week or more.

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