Oct. 1, 2002 – More than 310 unionized telephone and cable television workers were poised to strike at midnight Tuesday after rejecting the final contract offer from Innovative Communication Corp.
Officials of the United Steelworkers Union presented the terms of the negotiated contract to workers of Innovative Telephone, St. Thomas-St. John Cable TV and St. Croix Cable TV in two separate ratification meetings. Employees of the phone and cable companies "voted — overwhelmingly voted — to reject Innovative's final offer," Randolph Allen, Steelworkers international staff representative, said.
Allen said the unionized workers were expected to walk off the job at midnight. Talks between labor and management ended early Tuesday morning, leaving the current contract to expire on Oct. 1, the first day of Fiscal Year 2003.
Innovative's president and chief executive, Sam Ebbesen, asked the public for patience in a three-sentence statement citing "limited staff" at its St. Thomas and St. Croix business offices and service centers on Tuesday while workers held their ratification meetings. There was no further statement after Innovative executives received official notice that workers turned down their final offer.
An assistant in the office of Innovative spokesman Tom Dunn told a reporter he was in a meeting Tuesday afternoon and was not available for comment.
Innovative's proposed three-year agreement covers telephone and cable line workers, installers, key system technicians, janitors, cable splicers, cashiers, service representatives and operators. Allen said the first people to feel the effect of a strike on Wednesday would be new customers and those waiting for repair workers. "If there's no repair crew available and no servicemen, I guess that would affect service," he said.
According to a knowledgeable Innovative Telephone source, technicians were already having problems on Tuesday completing service calls because of material shortages. "We look like idiots. We go to a customer's house who took the day off and then tell them you can't give them service," the individual, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
Allen said he doesn't get the sense that money is a problem for Innovative. Company officials didn't say they couldn't afford the agreement terms the union sought, he said; rather, they said they were only willing to spend up to a point. "It's not because they can't pay more. It's just that this is what they intend to pay," he said.
Non-wage money issues, particularly pensions, emerged as sticking points in the contract negotiations and ultimately turned out to be deal breakers, Allen said. "Surprisingly salary is not the major issue, and we told them that from Day 1," he said.
The company's offered medical insurance coverage and a proposal by Innovative to bring in new phone and cable workers at lower tier wage scales also were rejected by the Steelworkers rank and file.
Allen said his negotiators are more than willing to resume talks with the company. Workers are willing to return to the job, he said, as long as Innovative is willing to return to the bargaining table.

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