Threatened SBC Strike to Affect Nevada Workers

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The union representing 102,000 employees of SBC Communications, including hundreds in Nevada, said it would stage a four-day strike beginning Friday to protest a deadlock in contract talks with the nation's second-largest local phone company.

SBC's 13-state coverage area also includes Texas, California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Connecticut. Among the workers planning to strike are telephone operators, customer service representatives, linemen and other technicians.

In Nevada, 675 SBC workers are represented by the Communication Workers of America, primarily in the Reno-Sparks and Carson City area, but also in Pahrump, Winnemucca, Ely, Hawthorne and a few in Las Vegas, union officials said.

"We want to send a sharp message to SBC that we are serious about our issues," said Barbara Welling, president of CWA Local 9413 in Reno.

"This is about health care issues for both retirees and local employees," she told KRNV-TV on Wednesday.

"Our members are very anxious to get a contract. We'll do whatever we need to do to achieve that," she said.

SBC had no immediate comment. But the company earlier said it has contingency plans for management employees and retirees to handle key duties in case of a walkout.

The union has criticized the company for proposing a first-year wage freeze while shifting more health care costs. A strike would be CWA's first against SBC since 1983.

The company has said it is negotiating in good faith.

With less of SBC's revenue coming from local phone service, the union wants its members to have access to positions in SBC's growth areas, among them Internet support, wireless data service and call centers.

Outside contractors, including those with workers in low-wage overseas locations, now handle most of that work.

SBC chief executive Edward Whitacre said in a Wednesday e-mail to employees that CWA workers would be considered for those jobs if the union's cost structure was similar to that of the outside contractors.

"How can we compete with someone making a dollar an hour in India or the Philippines?" asked Ralph Cortez, president of Local 6143 in San Antonio. "These jobs were created in America."

The contract expired in early April. Negotiations have been continuing in Washington with a federal mediator. But for the past three months, health care costs and job security issues have been sticking points.

In 2003, SBC was by far the most profitable of the four Baby Bell local-phone companies, earning $8.5 billion on revenue of $40.8 billion.