Sprint, CWA build tentative agreement

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Sprint telephone employees represented by the Communications Workers of American Local 3871 averted a strike set yesterday when they received a tentative agreement from the company on Tuesday morning.
   "Our local was notified at 11:45 a.m (Tuesday) that we had reached a tentative agreement," said Bob Brown, mobilization chairperson for Local 3871.
   The 385 Sprint employees represented by the local were prepared to strike effective at 1 p.m. Tuesday after six months of negotiation failed to produce a contract both sides found acceptable.
   Brown said proposals set forth in the tentative agreement would be put together and submitted to Sprint union members. The local would hold a meeting for Sprint employees to accept or reject the tentative agreement.
   "I look for it to be wrapped up today," said Brown of contract negotiations. "It will be done as quick as possible." He could not elaborate on the details of the contract as of Tuesday evening.
   Tom Matthews, spokesman for Sprint's regional office in Charlotte, N.C. said company officials and union negotiators met well into the night on Monday and resumed talks on Tuesday morning.
   "We're pleased with it," said Matthews of the tentative agreement.
   Matthews said all issues pertaining to health care, insurance and job security all came up during the negotiations.
   "A lot of points were discussed into those sessions," he said. "We were able to work through any difference and come up with something both sides found acceptable."
   The major issue revolved around the annual attrition of permanent Sprint employees and their replacement with temporary, contracted workers. Union representatives said that scenario would dilute the union's membership of full-time Sprint employees and the union's membership.
   The union negotiators also had sought a pay increase of three percent instead of the two percent proposed by the company.
   As of Tuesday afternoon, a meeting date for union members to vote on the tentative proposal had not been set. However, the local is expected submit the agreement to members within the next two to three weeks.
   Union representatives and the company began negotiations for a new contract in July 2002. Talks between the two sides ended on Friday. Local Sprint employees have been working without a contract since Sept. 1, 2002.
   The strike date was set by the union's international president and would have effected 2,700 workers at Sprint local telephone operations. The talks covered 170 workers in Oregon, 40 in Evansville, Ind., 400 in Tennessee, 1,600 in eastern North Carolina, and 500 in central Florida.
   Matthews also said Sprint reached tentative agreements with union locals in the other states and no Sprint employees went on strike Tuesday.
   Sprint spokesmen said on Monday that if employees went on strike, the company was prepared to reassign personnel to technical positions and bring in outside workers.
   The company recently reached a signed agreement with a local in Pittsburgh, Pa., and had reached a second tentative agreement with a CWA local in the Hickory/Madison, N.C., area last week.
   Union workers are employed with Sprint's Local Telecommunications Division (LTD), which serves approximately 8.2 million access lines in 18 states. Telephone technicians install and maintain the business and residential telephone communications equipment as well as central office telephone equipment provided by Sprint.
   The last strike involving Local 3871 occurred in October 1979 when union members picketed for 29 days.