Striking US WEST workers held a rally outside the company's Bell Plaza at 250 E. 200 South Thursday evening, then it was back to the bargaining table in Denver as the first-ever strike against the Baby Bell moved into its sixth day Friday.

The company and Communications Workers of America representatives have issued a joint statement saying they are committed to negotiations, but both sides have pledged to keep details of the talks quiet.Newspaper ads both sides have run in Salt Lake and other newspapers are the forum both sides have chosen to promote their side of the story and dispel misinformation they see coming from the other side.

Contract wrangling focuses around forced overtime, health benefits and a salary-plus-performance-pay compensation plan the company wants to implement. The union hates the plan, saying the performance pay is based on targets that can be changed by the company and that would impede service.

US WEST spokesman Michael Frandsen said the pay plan is needed to make the company successful in an increasingly competitive market and that it would boost the salary of every employee who chose to sign up for it. Only employees joining the company after the end of the year would be compelled to accept the new pay plan.

Customer service operations in Utah, in the meantime, remain sluggish as managers called in to fill the jobs of striking workers put in 12-hour days to handle calls for repairs and other services. Customers with problems are being told they'll likely wait two to three weeks to see a repair technician.

US WEST's Bell Plaza high-rise is partially occupied during working hours by managers flown in from Denver. The company's lunchroom is also working overtime and the food is free to keep workers from having to fend for themselves in territory that is unfamiliar to managers imported specifically for strike duty.

Even US WEST vice president Ted Smith has spent the week bouncing between phones on a service desk and an outside route servicing pay phones.