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CWA Settlement at Rochester Tel Restores 'Givebacks' Company Tried to Impose, Calls for New Joint Pe

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- A tentative settlement between CWA and Frontier-owned Rochester Telephone Co. provides wage and benefit improvements and restores a range of major contract concessions that the company tried to impose unilaterally 13 months ago -- an action that touched off a bitter labor dispute here as well as a nationwide corporate campaign by CWA against the Frontier Corp.

Today's agreement, covering more than 600 workers, substantially improves retiree health benefits -- eliminating the cost-shifting imposed by Rochester Tel last year -- calls for new base wage gains and bonuses, and establishes a new jointly-managed pension fund which will continue to provide defined benefits in addition to 401(k) savings.

CWA Local 1170's bargaining committee will recommend ratification by members at a meeting next week, reported local President Robert Flavin.

One of the major issues in the dispute was Rochester Tel's freezing of the existing pension fund last year, which left new hires entirely without a defined benefit pension. The settlement calls for establishing a new defined benefit pension plan, jointly managed by the company and union, that will cover all present and future employees. For those invested in the frozen pension plan, benefits were increased by 5 percent. In addition, the company agreed to guarantee an employer match of at least 3 percent in the 401(k) plan.

Another important issue was resolved when Rochester Tel agreed to increase its payments for retiree health care by $150 per month for family coverage and $125 for single coverage.

Whereas wages had been frozen in the contract Rochester Tel imposed on April 8, 1996, today's settlement calls for an additional 2 percent base wage hike retroactive to the first of this year and another 2 percent next January. A bonus plan remains in effect that could pay as much as 12 percent in cash tied to company productivity, and a new "premier performance" plan was negotiated that could deliver additional bonuses.

The tentative settlement provides new protections against the subcontracting of union work and a no-layoff guarantee for all employees throughout the contract term, which runs through January 31, 1999.

Rochester Tel had eliminated all double-time pay for overtime in its unilaterally imposed contract terms, but the new settlement restores double-time after 52 hours worked in a week. The settlement also improves pay treatment for newly hired employees.

In addition, workers who had been fired because of union mobilization activities during the contact dispute were reinstated with back pay and benefits, and suspensions were reduced for many others who were disciplined for union activities.

Rochester Tel tried to impose contract terms last year by declaring that negotiations with the union had come to an "impasse" - a term of art under federal labor law. However, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board agreed with CWA that no impasse occurred and has filed unfair labor practice charges against the company.

Ever since the contract imposition last April, CWA Local 1170 members have conducted a highly visible campaign of protest activities in Rochester, backed up by radio and print advertising. CWA locals throughout New York have participated in rallies in Rochester and helped lobby the New York public service commission to investigate Rochester Tel's poor customer service along with poor treatment of the workers.

CWA also has sought support from major institutional investors in Frontier Corporation, as well as from concerned political figures -- including several members of the British Parliament who wrote the company's CEO to warn that Frontier-style labor policies aren't welcome in the U.K.

CWA locals around the country also have lent support, such as in a recent action by members in Richmond, Va., and Kenilworth, N.J. who demonstrated against two Frontier directors at shareholder meetings of other companies where they also serve as directors.

"This was a total effort of CWA at all levels -- local, district and national -- to bring Frontier and Rochester Tel back into the mainstream of the telecommunications industry," said District 1 Vice President Larry Mancino, whose region includes New York, New Jersey and New England. "We achieved that goal finally through great determination and hard work, and I congratulate everyone involved."

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