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Striking phone workers return

Telephone workers began returning to Bell System jobs Sunday after the last two local contractor settlements brought an announcement from Glenn Watts, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), that the 22-day nationwide strike was at an end.

The walkout by 525,000 workers represented by the CWA and 150,000 by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Telecommunication International Union, delayed telephone installations and repairs but had only minimal impact on regular service due to automated call-handling, reports Monitor labor correspondent Ed Townsend.

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The CWA contract negotiated a week ago must be ratified by members, a process expected to take two to three weeks. Union officials expect easy approval of terms they say represent a ''victory'' for the workers.

The national agreement gives respectable raises and avoids major ''give backs'' sought by American Telephone & Telegraph. It includes elaborate new retraining provisions for workers whose jobs are lost in the expected upheaval as AT&T's divestiture and deregulation transform the industry over the next year. Still, the CWA had sought substantially more job security for its workers than it got.

In terms of money, the new pact should boost average wages by 16.4 percent over three years - just under 9 percent in pay hikes and the rest through cost-of-living adjustments. The cost to the Bell System, estimated at $3 billion over three years, will probably bring higher telephone rates for the public.

The strength demonstrated by CWA and the two other unions at bargaining tables could be undermined next January when seven regional holding companies take over Bell System operations under the court-ordered breakup of Bell. The unions had demanded guarantees of continuing nationwide bargaining; they did not win them.

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