Local phone workers join in four-day strike against SBC
Telephone technicians who work in the Hudson area joined in the four-day strike against SBC Communications Inc.
Members of the Communications Workers of America Local 4641 walked off the job Friday and picketed the Hudson SBC on Second Street through Monday.
Shortly after the planned four-day strike came to an end Tuesday morning, union and company officials announced tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract.
Union leaders said the deal would improve wages and strengthen job security for SBC workers in 13 states.
Steve Leistiko, who was walking the picket line in front of the Hudson SBC facility Monday morning, said the strike was primarily about job security and health care insurance.
"They're trying to farm out jobs overseas," said Leistiko, a lifelong Hudson resident.
Craig Rogaczewski of River Falls, president of CWA Local 4641, said SBC had wanted to outsource technical support jobs to workers in foreign countries and lay off American SBC employees.
An SBC customer with an issue with DSL service might have had to talk to someone in India or The Philippines, Rogaczewski said.
"They're not bad people, but it's not keeping the jobs here in the United States where we need the money," he said.
Rogaczewski said SBC also sought to slash health insurance benefits for both current employees and retirees.
"They wanted to cut our healthcare benefits a lot," he said. "In the tentative agreement, there is still a cut in our health benefits, but something that maybe we can live with."
Rogaczewski said he hadn't seen the details of the agreement yet. "I'm hoping we can live with it. It sounds like we can," he said.
"The one thing I've been trying to get across to the public is that we're not after a big paycheck. We weren't after big pay raises. We were after job security and our health care," he added.
Rogaczewski said the 22 members of Local 4641 that were on strike included central office technicians and installation and repair technicians based at SBC's Hudson facility. The company also has a facility at River Falls, where Rogaczewski, an outside electronics technician, is based.
The workers serve the Hudson, Houlton, River Falls, Roberts and Ellsworth area.
An Associated Press story said the tentative agreement provides 100,000 union employees base wage increases of 2.3 percent per year for five years and lump-sum increases averaging $300 per year.
SBC Chairman and Chief Executive Edward Whitacre Jr. was quoted as saying, "SBC now has a labor agreement that provides us greater control over our cost structure and flexibility to meet our competitive challenges, while continuing to provide the outstanding wages and benefits that are hallmarks of this company."
CWA President Morton Bahr said the tentative deal would help ensure "that American workers and their communities benefit from the promise of new information technology jobs." He added that the pact provides opportunity for union members as they move from traditional telecom work to the new technologies of the industry.
Randy Hanson can be reached at email@example.com.