Happy Together
Unions, management cozy up
By Alex De Grand

Don't let Hollywood images of beefy Teamsters beating the crap out of some hapless scab fool you.

Disagreements between the Communications Workers of America and GTE are more like the squabbles in a marriage than the nuclear war of divorce court.

Negotiations between GTE and Lexington's CWA Local 3372 got a little testy last week when the company floated proposals to tinker with the formula for calculating the pay of service center employees whose shifts run into the evening.

The CWA posted its annoyance on the "bargaining news" section of its webpage.

But that's about the most anyone outside the negotiations is likely to hear as union and company representatives hammer out a new contract, a task undertaken every three years.

Local 3372 public relations director Michael Garkovich said there is tension surrounding any type of negotiation, but those disagreements occur in a broader context of all the parties wanting to get along.

“We don’t want to strike; they don’t want a strike,” Garkovich said. “They’re slower to come by. In the ‘70s, if three days passed after the contract expired, you were out the door. Now, we work on an extension if progress is being made in the negotiations.”

The upper levels of the CWA and GTE's other union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, are in a partnership with the company, he said.

One tangible example of what a friend GTE has in the CWA can be found in the effort to merge GTE and Bell Atlantic. CWA President Morton Bahr wrote a letter to the Federal Communication Commission, urging them to approve the merger.

Bahr asserted the merger will create jobs, expand services and options to residential and business customers, and provide real competition in a greatly expanded number of markets.

"We all know we have vested interests in the betterment of the company and the employee," Garkovich said.

And it isn't just the GTE managers who can feel the love tonight.

David Weller, the Bell South regional director in Frankfort, said his company has a similarly good working relationship with the union.

"This is a very rapidly moving technology business and [a company] needs a flexible, dynamic workforce," Weller said. "A company needs the ability to put its workforce in areas to respond to customer needs. Certainly in our case, the CWA has worked with us on those issues."

For example, Weller explained that when Bell South wanted to enter into the start-up business of national directory assistance, the CWA was flexible on structuring pay scales and job duties.

None of this is to say the CWA wouldn't ever strike, but it would take a lot more to trigger such an action than it did in the old days, commented Garkovich.

"We don't want to strike; they don't want a strike," Garkovich said. "They're slower to come by. In the '70s, if three days passed after the contract expired, you were out the door. Now, we work on an extension if progress is being made in the negotiations."

GTE spokeswoman Kathy Goss had no comment on the negotiations, but reported the last work stoppage in Lexington occurred in 1977 and lasted seven months.

Talk of strikes can prompt a lot of shirts to dampen around the armpit areas.

Not only do they inconvenience the customers who may or may not return when the strike is over, but the action can ravage the workplace environment.

"When I first started, labor-management relations were extremely strained," said Richard Powell, a retired GTE engineer who started work right after the last strike.

Powell said there were reports of ugly incidents during the strike, including damaged cars and intimidation.

When the strike ended, reconciliation proved to be a tough sell.

Besides tensions between union members and the managers, Powell noted the union was also at odds with those workers hired during the strike (some call them "scabs") who stayed after the strike.

Powell said by the time he left GTE in 1990, most of the bad feelings had healed. But the lessons weren't forgotten, he added.

"That's just evidenced by the fact they've gone from '77 without a strike and both sides are working not to have work stoppages," Powell said.

The current contract between CWA Local 3372 and GTE expires June 3. Negotiations began May 3.

Those talks are likely to be tense given that telecommunications is a highly competitive industry.

"Over 300 companies have filed for and gotten permission from the Public Service Commission to be local carriers," Weller said, adding even more want to be your long distance company.

Garkovich said the major issues boil down to working conditions, wages and benefits. But the most contentious issues aren't addressed until the latter part of the negotiations, he said.

Local 3372 represents about 1,100 workers, 600 of whom work in the service center, Garkovich stated.

The service center handles directory assistance and "0" operator calls, Garkovich noted.

Under the current contract, Garkovich said, the average service center operator earns about $8 an hour. Garkovich said salaries of technicians in the local are so varied and specified, it isn't possible to report their average wage.

So in a world asking, "Can't we all just get along?" the CWA and GTE are working up to the answer, "Of course." At least for now.

The union is seeking public support and plans to have an informational rally at the service center, 2001 Harrodsburg Road, at noon on June 3.

Alex De Grand can be reached at 225-4889 or


Don't hold your breath
In Media Res reported that Insight Communications was promising cable modem access through the Insight @Home service to the Lakeview-Mt. Tabor neighborhood by May 15. A call to the cable provider the week of May 15th revealed that the service is not yet available, and the customer service representatives would not give a date for when the service would be available in this neighborhood. Hope you haven't been holding your breath. -KR

Co-Ed She-Devil
Midway College issued a press release concerning one Catherine Houston, a recent grad who defied convention by accessorizing her mortar board with bright devil horns (illuminated by small batteries)

What's most disturbing here? That a young girl was possibly forced to finance her "higher" education by selling her soul to the devil? Or that Midway, technically a place of higher learning, would spend time, money, and effort to send out a press release on this non-event.

One generally applauds minor acts of rebellion in the face of totalitarian regimes, just not when they're this lame. -RB

Lagging behind market leader WKYT in the ratings, hasn't stopped WLEX from collecting a shelf full of awards of late. The Associated Press recently voted WLEX 18 News the best regularly scheduled newscast for the state of Kentucky; that means WLEX beat out stations in Lexington and also in Louisville, a larger television market. Overall, Channel 18 won six first place, one second place and two honorable mention awards from the AP. WTVQ, Channel 36, won a first place, a second place, and two honorable mentions; WKYT garnered one second place and two honorable mentions as well.

WLEX received six regional emmy nominations. Former anchor Tom Kenny received two nominations for his piece about a local Vietnam veteran who died in the U.S. from injuries received in the war; the vet's name was finally added to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, D.C. Fox 56 News also scored six nominations. WTVQ received three, and WKYT received only one, in a non-news category. -KR

Hello, Elmer's?
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Stuff We Miss
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