People who get telephone calls, or mail - and that is most of us - have a stake in collective bargaining talks that have reached a critical and final, stage in the telephone industry.
The last time labor and management in the 700,000 employee industry bargained (1974) they narrowly averted a crippling nationwide telephone strike. Now they face a deadline on midnight Saturday that acould mean immediate telephone troubles and possible mail-moving problems early year.
Telephone union leaders say the situation - bogged down over job-security and money issues - is so critical that they will take the "unusal" step of going public today, at 10 a.m. at a special Mayflower Hotel press conference.
Postal union leaders, who have been working fraternally with the communications union early next year when they will run into the same problem of job security and money with the U.S. Postal Service.
Both union leaders and USPS brass are watching the telephone industry talks since the link between the two services, and the problems both face, are so much alike.
The job security agreements that the telephone company unions win - or lose - with management could be a key to talks that begin in April between the Postal Service and exclusive unions representing its 600,000 p lus workers. Telephone unions - the Communications Workers of America, Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Telecommunications International Union - have used the no-layoff agreement between the USPS and postal employee unions as key bargaining chip. Both industries, mail-moving and telephone communications, have been hit by inflationary costs and both are looking for ways to automate to reduce their payrolls.
The 3-year agreement between the postal service and its unions (it expires in July, 1978) was considered a landmark by many labor experts, including officials and union leaders in the telephone industry. It provided for four guaranteed pay raises and six cost-of-living increases; made major improvements in fringe benefits and included the viatal (to the unions) no layoff agreement.
Postal workers, in many respects, have pulled ahead of their white collar colleagues in governemnt; thanks to their active unions, and high (80 per cent voluntary membership) participation and contacts on Capitol Hill. They have gone from being the ghetto workers of the government to become the pay-and-fringe benefit shock troops. Now they are being used by private industry union as the model of how things get done.
Less thatn a decade ago postal workers were linked to Grade 5 of the white collar pay schedule, the beginning professional and secretarial level. That GS 5 level, in the white collar service, now pays from $9,303 to $12,093.
But the majority of postal workers today, in the big letter carrier-clerk crafts are roughly on par with Grade 8 and 9 of the federal service. And they have better fringe benefits.
Postal worker in the clerk-carrier craft now start at $13,313 and go to a $15,898 base within 7 years. That is about half the time it takes the top of their grade.
Postal workers have also bargained - using strikes and the threat of strikes - for better benefits. The USPS now pays up to 93 per cent of the cost of each employee health unsurance package, and all of the life insurance premium. White collar federal civilians pay two-thirds the cost of their life insurance at least 25 per cent of their health premiums.
Telephone union officials want job guarantees in their next contract along the lines of the no-layoff pledge that postal workers have already won. And the postal unions have a stake in whether the telephone workers get it, since their contract is up for negotiation again early next year and they too are facing proposed service and job cutbacks, and the threat of automation that eventually could reduce the ranks form 30 per cent to 50 per cent.
The excellent contract that the postal union have won - and want to expand on in 1978 - is a major reaosn that communications union leaders are anxious for a merger. They believe it would give both groups more clout with Congress, and the public; not to mention an effectibe hammer-lock on the nation's two primary forms of business and personal communications. Lots of money and jobs are riding on the telephone company talks, and the precedent they will set for the upcoming postal union negotiations.