A strike by more than 600 workers for the Continental Telephone Company of Virginia is starting its third month, as the workers -- all members of Local 2275 of the Communication Workers of America -- continue to walk picket lines in Prince William County and parts of southern Virginia.
In the meantime, the State Corporation Commission has scheduled two public hearings to review complaints filed with the SCC from disgruntled Continental customers. Del. David G. Brickley has even suggested that Continental customers in Northern Virginia might be better off if they got their phone services from C&P Telephone Company, which serves many residents in the metropolitan area.
The strike against Continental began Feb. 1 when union workers rejected an offer from the company for a three-year wage and benefits pact that would have ended a year-long contract dispute.
Since then, on two occasions, union and Continental negotiators have sequestered themselves in a Richmond motel, trying to iron out an agreement. Both sessions ended without success.
Company officials say there have been some interruptions in operator-assisted calls and delays in phone installations for Continental's 215,000 customers from Tidewater to Northern Virginia, including southern Fairfax County and Prince William County. Joe Dowdy, security director for Continental, added that in the eight weeks since the strike began, more than 50 Continental phone cables had been cut.
Union negotiator John O'Connell, who recently was admitted to a Richmond hospital for treatment of leukemia, has accused the phone company of failing to negotiate in good faith and said the next move is up to Continental. Union members, O'Connell said before he was hospitalized, believe the company is attempting to break the union. "But they'll never do it," said O'Connell.
Frank Casazza, a Continental spokesman, denied the accusations."We don't have any intention of breaking the union."
He added, however, that the company also has no intention of changing its contract terms. "There is no move to come back to the bargaining table," he said.
The first hearing on customer complaints against Continental will be April 1 in SCC chambers in Richmond.
The second hearing will be May 20 at Garfield High School in Woodbridge. Del. Brickley said he had asked the SCC to schedule a hearing in his district after receiving a number of complaints about Continental from residential and business customers in his district.
"The phone system here is in extremely poor shape," charged Brickley. "In the last couple of months, it has deteriorated sharply. The complaints have been piling up. It's gotten worse and worse and worse. To me the solution is to get Continental out of Prince William and get us hooked up with C&P. I don't think they should lose a franchise. Maybe they could switch with a C&P area downstate."
Several efforts were made to contact spokesmen for Contintental regarding Brickley's remarks. However, no company officials were available.