Moments after word came from the Mayflower Hotel yesterday that the Communications Workers of America had joined two other unions in accepting the terms of a tentative contract settlement with AT&T, Elsie Dull, an operator for more than 20 years, was still walking the picket line--ending her second week of slow, rhythmic steps in yellow slippers outside the C&P Telephone office on 13th Street NW.
"We haven't heard of any agreement yet, but I'll be relieved when it's over," said Dull, a member of Local 2300 of the CWA. "Most of us I'm sure would rather be working than walking. I mean, working is the way of life. I guess we'll have to see what happens."
Dull's reaction came shortly after Glenn E. Watts, president of the CWA, which represents 525,000 of the 675,000 striking Bell system employes, announced that the CWA executive board had just approved a memorandum of understanding for a new, three-year contract with American Telephone & Telegraph Co.
Watts indicated in his statement that before the CWA members would return to work, companion agreements being negotiated in 34 areas across the country at the local level must be completed. The CWA's members would return to work on Thursday at the earliest, pending conclusion of the local bargaining, Watts said.
Because the settlement is tentative, and so new that it had not yet filtered down to the rank-and-file pounding the streets late yesterday afternoon, reactions of the handful of strikers walking the lines in the District yesterday were equally as tentative.
Strike captain Steve Owens, of CWA Local 2336, was at the C&P office on L Street NW. "We have got some tentative word; we heard it on the radio. But as of 15 minutes ago, the word hadn't been put on the tape machine at the union office. Until we know for sure, I'm just going to keep my strike lines in order, and do what I've been doing for 14 or 15 hours a day for the last two weeks."
Owens said that while the spirit of the strikers had not been sagging, the numbers of the strikers had dwindled in recent days, as the local placed employes in jobs with temporary agencies.
"We all knew the strike was coming. The local had been sending out information that in X amount of days the contract would be over and be ready to strike. I guess we've been ready," said Owens, a 10-year company veteran.
"I'm sure people would rather be getting paid than not getting paid," said Melvin Hutchins, a C&P employe for 30 years. "Maybe you can get by for two weeks without a salary, but these days, you need every penny that's coming to you . . . . I think we're all ready to get back to work."
"I guess the real factor will be the terms of the contract," Owens said. "If it's not anything that's acceptable, then I've got no problem with staying out longer. I've been here two weeks. I'd hate to see it go another two weeks, but if that's what it takes, that's what it takes."