Alleging an escalation in violence and intimidation, US WEST is asking a Utah judge to restrict the activities of pickets.
In a lawsuit filed Friday in 3rd District Court, US WEST said striking workers are trying to shut down company operations with "force, intimidation, violence and threats.""I am dumbfounded by those allegations," replied Gail Metcalf, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 7704. "If anything, it's our people who have been threatened and injured."
More than 35,000 US WEST workers in 14 states - 2,200 in Utah - walked off the job Sunday morning after contract talks stalled over a broad spectrum of pay, overtime and insurance issues. Since then, strikers have manned picket lines at US WEST's main office, 250 E. 200 South, and service facility, 4390 S. Main.
According to the company's lawsuit, the "mass picketing" at the two facilities has interfered with US WEST operations. Also, it says CWA members have tried to compel other workers to "strike against their will" by interference and threats.
Specific incidents of violence and threats were alleged in a half dozen affidavits filed with the lawsuit. For example, Frank Adams, a contract employee from Nevada, said he was approached at his motel Thursday night by three people in a blue sedan who asked him if he was a "scab."
According to Adams, one of the people had a gun in his lap and said, "You never know, but if I see you out working, I will take you out."
Another employee, Steve Clark, said he was hit in the head with a rock as he was going to work at the Murray facility. Bonnie Anderson, vice president of operations, said in her affidavit that strikers surrounded her car and stopped her from entering the company lot.
Metcalf disputes the allegations, saying CWA workers are instructed not to engage in violence or impede access to company facilities. She said the access policy may have been strained Thursday during a large rally.
"It took some time for picketers to clear the driveways," she said.
During that time, she said she overheard one US WEST security guard tell a company driver to "just run over" any pickets who got in the way. "That got things heated up a bit," she said, "but the police arrived and did a wonderful job of cooling it down."
Metcalf also said at least two pickets have been hit, though not injured, by company vehicles entering and leaving facilities.
US WEST is asking Judge Tyrone E. Medley to issue a restraining order prohibiting the union from engaging in threats, violence, vandalism and abusive and obscene language. The company also wants an order limiting strikers to eight pickets 30 feet apart at each facility and a ban on pickets blocking or impeding access to those facilities.
Metcalf said strikers have the right to picket peacefully along all public sidewalks. She said the lawsuit has been referred to CWA lawyers.
"I think they (US WEST) are cleary blowing this way out of proportion," she said.