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New Strike Adds To Phone Woes

Thousands of striking communications workers headed back to picket lines in 13 Western states Monday, while Connecticut phone customers braced for delays as a strike there entered its first business day.

Talks between U S West and Communications Workers of America (CWA) negotiators were scheduled to resume Monday after a five-hour session ended without settlement Sunday evening.

"They made some progress on some minor issues today, and I take that as a good sign. I don't think it's anything to get overly optimistic about but at least they're headed in the right direction," CWA Local 7777 spokesman Bruce McDowell said late Sunday.

The country's sixth-largest telephone company said the CWA - which represents 34,000 workers across the West - has refused to discuss any of the issues that forced their Aug. 16 walkout. The union denied the charge.

Federal mediator Jim Mahon had ordered both sides back to the negotiating table at 2 p.m. Sunday. Talks broke up at 7 p.m.

The major sticking points are forced overtime, health benefits, and a plan to tie pay to job performance.

Sue Pisha, a district vice president of the union, questioned U S West's desire to negotiate a settlement.

"It completely defies common sense that our employees and their families wanted to endure the hardship of foregoing a paycheck and walking picket lines, or that they would want to prolong that experience one minute longer than necessary," she said.

In Salt Lake City, company officials and union workers traded barbs over the weekend, each claiming the other side was using intimidation tactics.

A U S West spokesman said a replacement worker's car was vandalized at work and a manager received a threatening phone call Sunday, two days after a judge issued a restraining order prohibiting such interference.

CWA members denied any involvement in the incidents and claimed that company security personnel were videotaping strikers.

Meanwhile, more than 6,000 workers walked off their jobs this weekend at Southern New England Telecommunications Corp., which serves nearly all of Connecticut's 3 million residents.

Company officials had hoped to extend the contract while bargaining continued. But when the deadline of 12:01 a.m. Sunday arrived with no agreement in sight on salary and benefit issues, the Connecticut Union of Telephone Workers and the affiliated CWA called a strike.

No talks were held Sunday. SNET officials said they expected to hear from a federal mediator Monday about a schedule for a new round of negotiations.

Officials at SNET, the nation's oldest local phone company, said customers would not notice disruptions in making regular telephone calls, but warned that customers could experience delays in reaching operators, directory assistance, and customer service.

About 3,000 managers were called to fill in. On Sunday, managers were driving SNET repair trucks.

Written by Steven K. Paulson