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Lucent and 2 Unions Try to Avert Strike

Telecom: Round-the-clock negotiations focus on wages, pensions, health benefits. About 43,000 workers could walk out.

June 01, 1998|From Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. — Contract talks between telecommunications giant Lucent Technologies and unions representing one-third of its work force continued late Sunday evening, passing one union's strike deadline and approaching the other's.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers had set a strike deadline for 6 p.m. Sunday Eastern time, and the Communications Workers of America set its deadline at midnight. Their contract expired at midnight Saturday, the two unions' original strike deadline.

Lucent sells services and equipment--such as telephone transmission, routing and microelectronics products--to regional Bell operating companies, competitive local exchange carriers, Internet and wireless service providers and long-distance carriers. The two unions represent about 43,000 workers across the United States, about a third of Murray Hill, N.J.-based Lucent's worldwide work force of 131,000.

"There's a chance they may come out and say, 'That's it. We're on strike,' " IBEW spokesman Jim Spellane said Sunday evening.

He said the two sides bargained until after 3 a.m. Sunday and resumed negotiations for the multiyear contract about 1 p.m.

"The mood wasn't good, and there's still some significant differences, so I don't know what the chances are of avoiding a strike," Spellane said.

Union negotiators said Saturday that they and the company were far apart on wages, pensions and health-care benefits.

IBEW represents about 19,000 workers at Lucent manufacturing and operations facilities across the United States. CWA represents about 24,000 employees of Lucent, the telecommunications-equipment company spun off from AT&T Corp. in September 1996.

"The union workers covered by this contract do the building, installing and servicing of a lot of our telecommunications equipment, and [the contract] also covers some clerical workers," Lucent spokesman Bill Price said.

The talks were being held in a hotel in Washington, where both unions are based.

"We continue to be focused on bringing this to a resolution," Price said. "We continue to bargain in good faith to reach an agreement."

Lucent reported first-quarter sales of $6.16 billion, up 20% from the year earlier, and its business is very profitable. The company's stock has soared since being listed in 1996.

"People are hostile. They cannot believe that if you work for a company that makes tremendous profits that it would ask for givebacks," Sam Martin, vice president of IBEW Local 1974, said Saturday.

Lucent counters that the company's wages and other compensation are among the best in the industry.

Last year, Lucent announced plans to become a major player in data networking, and it has since acquired three companies in that business, filling important gaps in its product line.

Lucent spokesman W. Scott Horne said the major facilities affected by the talks include plants in Denver; Mesquite, Texas; Norcross, Ga.; North Andover-Merrimack Valley, Mass.; Oklahoma City; Omaha; Orlando, Fla.; Reading and Allentown, Pa.; and Shreveport, La.

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