Union locals that represent approximately 30,000 employes of the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. are voting this week whether to authorize a strike against the telephone company in Maryland, D.C., Virginia and West Virginia.
Members of the Communications Workers of America have been called on to authorize a strike in an effort to get C&P to bargain over pay rates for two jobs that union officials say the company downgraded unilaterally.
At stake in the negotiations and the strike vote are concerns over loss of pay and loss of jobs as C&P introduces automated equipment, according to union officials.
The results of the votes by some 30 CWA locals are expected to be announced Wednesday.
In September, C&P created two new job titles and began hiring people at lower salaries to do work previously performed by CWA members. The decision by the company to do so without negotiating on pay rates violates the union's contract with C&P which expires in August, according to Ed Lewinski, chairman of the CWA bargaining committee.
One of those jobs, customer clerk, pays approximately $60 a week less than a similar job, called service representative, he said. The other job title in question is repair service clerk, a job in which clericals perform on a computer some 30 tests to determine whether telephones are out of order. The tests previously were performed by central office technicians, who are paid $124 a week more than the workers now doing those jobs.
"The company doesn't understand why the union is threatening a strike," said Al Sears, an assistant vice president for C&P's labor relations in the Mid-Atlantic region. "We have acted in accordance with the contract."
Sears said the company is introducing new technology to save on labor costs. No workers will be laid off or downgraded, he said.
C&P spokesman Web Chaberlain said that the company followed the contract in notifying the union of the new classifications and has been bargaining with the union. "We don't plan to demote anybody, retire anybody or force anybody to relocate his home," he said. Chamberlain said the union has filed no grievance over the issue.
Lewinski said the issue cannot be moved to arbitration because arbitrators are precluded from setting salaries. Because of that, the union's alternative is a strike unless the issue can be resolved, he said. "If the company just implements it, we feel we have the right to strike."