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Tentative Deal For SBC Workers

Phone giant SBC Communications Inc. reached a tentative contract agreement with more than 100,000 union employees early Tuesday, several hours after the workers' planned four-day strike came to an end.

Communications Workers of America leaders say the five-year deal, which is subject to member ratification, improves wages and strengthens job security for the employees it represents in 13 states.

The agreement came soon after SBC employees returned to work past a midnight Tuesday following a four-day strike that began Friday.

"This agreement helps ensure that American workers and their communities benefit from the promise of new information technology jobs," CWA President Morton Bahr said in a prepared statement, adding that the pact provides access and opportunity for members as they move from traditional telecom work to the new technologies of the industry.

The tentative agreement provided across-the-board base wage increases. On average, employees will receive base wage increases of 2.3 percent per year for five years and lump sums averaging $300 per year, said SBC officials.

"SBC now has a labor agreement that provides us greater control over our cost structure and flexibility to meet our competitive challenges, while continuing to provide the outstanding wages and benefits that are hallmarks of this company," SBC Chairman and chief executive Edward E. Whitacre Jr. said in a statement posted on the San Antonio-based company's Web site.

The agreement also includes new access to jobs in the growth areas, protects health security for both active employees and retirees, and improves pensions.

The settlement guarantees no layoffs of employees currently on the payroll for the life of the agreement and calls for rehiring of several hundred workers who had been laid off at SBC Southwest and SBC Midwest.

Officials of the nation's No. 2 phone provider said negotiators agreed to provide current CWA-represented employees with a guaranteed job offer, should their existing job be no longer needed.

"Because of our members' unity, we were able to reach a settlement that everyone is proud of," said Anthony Bixler, CWA vice president in California, Hawaii and Nevada.

While some increases in co-payments for medical services and prescription drugs were agreed upon, SBC will continue to provide fully paid health care benefits, the union said.

Active SBC employees will receive cash bonuses of $1,000 to help offset these higher costs. Retirees, who are now under a different plan from active workers, will receive $2,500.

During the strike, about 40,000 SBC managers, contract workers and retirees filled in at service centers, spliced cable and made repairs. They were able to maintain reliable service for the strike's duration, the company said.

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.

By T.A. Badger