Bell Atlantic Corp., the telephone company for the mid-Atlantic region, yesterday announced a major reorganization that could shift thousands of jobs from local phone companies to the regional staff and combine the management of its telephone operations and its unregulated businesses.
The restructuring will mean that many management tasks now handled by the local C&P Telephone Cos. in Washington, Maryland and Virginia will be intergrated with management of the regional headquarters company in Philadelphia.
At the same time, the separate managements that now oversee the government-regulated phone companies and Bell Atlantic's other unregulated businesses will be combined.
C&P officials said the goal is to eliminate duplication and save money, but critics complained that the restructuring will make it harder for state utility regulators to control local phone costs.
C&P officials said yesterday they do not know whether the reorganization will cost any workers their jobs or will force employes to move from the local area to Philadelphia.
The C&P companies employ 29,000 of the 81,000 employes on the Bell Atlantic payroll.
"It's our policy to avoid layoffs," Bell Atlantic spokesman Tom Healey said. "There may be some people reassigned."
C&P spokesman Web Chamberlin said local phone companies' staffs have been reduced by about 10 percent since the Bell System breakup in 1984, but said it is too early to tell what effect the reorganization set to go into effect next January will have.
The reorganization drew sharp criticism from consumer advocates yesterday who said it would be virtually impossible to determine whether local phone users are being charged fairly for phone services. Utility regulators base phone-rate decisions on how much the company spends providing the service. The critics said it will be hard to sort out who should pay the salary of a phone company manager who serves phone companies in several states and simultaneously works on regulated and unregulated businesses.
Gregory Carmean, assistant people's counsel for Maryland, said the plan raises "tremendous problems" with allocating costs. He said the company would have an incentive to give all the costs savings of the reorganization to its competitive business customers and not residential ratepayers. "We want our fair share of the costs properly assigned and we want to make sure ratepayers don't subsidize competitive businesses," he said.
D.C. consumer advocates said the reorganization reflected Bell Atlantic's push into unregulated ventures and would cost phone users money.
"This love affair with deregulation is going to screw the little people to the wall -- unquestionably," said Frederick Dorsey, people's counsel for the District who represents ratepayers in utility rate cases.
In a newsletter distributed to employes last week, Bell Atlantic Chairman Thomas E. Bolger said the reorganization was vital to meet growing competition in various businesses such as yellow pages and services to big businesses.
"If we are to continue to grow and be successful, we must integrate our resources, sharpen our focus on the marketplace, and continue to drive unnecessary costs out of the business," he said. "The prospects of changing regulation and increasing consumer requirements ... . adds to the urgency of this move."
Bolger said the new plan would allow "further consolidation and reduction in staffs and overheads, with reductions in the work force to be accomplished through attrition." Task forces have been appointed to target areas for consolidation.
The company said it does not need federal or local regulatory approval to accomplish its new plan.
Rules governing the Bell System breakup still require the companies to keep separate subsidiaries for competitive, non-telephone company businesses. Harold H. Greene, the judge presiding over the Bell System breakup, held hearings last week on changing the rules that also prohibit the companies from offering long-distance or computerized services and making telephone equipment. He is not expected to make a decision until this fall.
The Bell Atlantic plan would consolidate the corporation's administrative staffs for its telephone companies and for the company's competitive businesses such as computer and office equipment leasing, mobile paging and cellular operations, and computer maintenance companies.