MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — US West workers took to the picket lines at company buildings across the state while their managers filled in as technicians and operators just hours after the gigantic phone company went on strike Sunday.
Some 4,600 Communications Workers of America in Minnesota were among the 34,000 employees that walked off the job early Sunday morning over proposals calling for forced overtime and pay-for-performance. About 1,600 managers in Minnesota took their place.
US West officials said the managers would work 12-hour days, seven days a week until the strike was resolved. The managers had been trained for their new jobs in the weeks leading up to the strike, said US West spokeswoman Mary Hisley.
Local, long distance and emergency phone service remained intact hours after the strike began. But other services, such as directory assistance, were hampered by their new operators. Some calls took dozens of rings to get an operator.
Hisley pleaded for patience.
“Rest assured that our network is very strong and will continue running,” she said. “We’ll continue to provide as high a level of service as possible. But there may be some delays and we would ask for patience.”
Deni Hogan, who has worked for US West for 27 years in local marketing, said it would be difficult for managers to quickly learn the intricacies of their jobs.
“I’m sure they can’t (do the employees’ jobs right away). But they’re not dumb. They can learn,” Hogan, who was picketing US West’s downtown Minneapolis building, told WCCO-TV.
Also on the picket line was Caroline Brokl, a 24-year veteran of the company who works in sales.
“Work volumes have doubled, tripled, quadrupled and we just can’t get the number of people to accommodate it so we’re exhausted, we’re tired,” she said.
US West has about 2.2 million phone lines in Minnesota. Automated systems should keep phone service running. But if a storm knocks down any telephone lines, the company could be in trouble, Hisley said.
“That would certainly be a worry, no doubt,” Hisley said.
She said US West would have to bring in managers from other states in the Denver-based company’s 14-state region. But that could mean a slow return to service for many customers.
The president of CWA Local 7200 in Minneapolis remained steadfast.
“Our members will strike as long as it’s necessary. Whatever it takes, that’s what it takes,” Mary Taylor said.
If the impasse stretches past two weeks, Taylor said union members would receive $200 a week in strike pay until the $175 million 14-state strike fund runs out. She said she had no idea how long the strike would last.