An AT&T contract worth looking at
Whether 675,000 striking telephone workers vote to accept the tentative accord worked out between union leaders and the American Telephone & Telegraph Company won't be known for several weeks, when the ballots are finally counted. The presumption is that workers will give their assent. What is clear, however, is that the proposed new three-year contract, as noted by union leader Glenn Watts, breaks ''real ground'' in the whole area of job security in an industry that is at the forefront of sweeping technological change.
In that regard, the proposed telephone contract deserves the closest study by management and union leaders in other electronics and computer-related industries where rapid change is also the order of the day. The contract would:
* Establish a $31 million joint union-telephone company fund for retraining employees in new forms of technology. Retraining would apply not just to workers actually affected by automation, but also workers who are seeking improvements in career devel-opment.
* Provide substantial relocation and job-training assistance for workers who face layoffs but choose to quit.
* Provide special contractual protections against being ''downgraded'' in a job because of changes resulting from the breakup of the telephone system early next year when regional firms become independent of the national Bell system.
The contract also provides wage increases for phone company workers, including a hike of 5.5 percent for the first year, and an increase of 1.5 percent annually plus a cost-of-living adjustment for the second and third years of the settlement. Most labor analysts expect productivity gains within the industry to outstrip the costs of the pay and other benefit increases.
But it is the proposals for job retraining and relocation that are of such interest. Given the fact that much of American industry is now making significant changes in production methods because of new technology, it is sensible to make retraining and relocation proposals part of a firm's overall ''benefit'' package. Having such carefully crafted arrange-ments, both management and labor can then go about the task of welcoming necessary changes with a greater sense of freedom and common purpose.