Utah is gaining the reputation as the state with the most strike-related violence in the 9-day-old walkout against US WEST.
Bargaining was scheduled to resume in Denver Monday morning after five hours of talks Sunday, but the relationship between the company and the striking Communications Workers of America outside the negotiating sessions is growing increasingly tense.Salt Lake-area incidents reported to police include an armed threat at a Salt Lake motel Thursday that led to a judge's restraining order against strikers; telephone threats; rock throwing; and damage to a manager's car when a US WEST construction cone was dropped through the windshield from a multi-level parking terrace Saturday evening.
"I can't imagine that the union would support this kind of activity," said company spokesman Michael Frandsen."But the specter of this kind of violence and intimidation goes too far."
Salt Lake's Union Local 7704 President Gail Metcalf told the Deseret News Monday morning she believes the company is fabricating vandalism reports to make the union look bad. "They can blame us all they want, but until I see that they've reported it to the police, I don't know that it happened."
Frandsen said all of the incidents have been reported to police.
The company accused the union over the weekend of stalling negotiations, and the union angrily responded with an accusation that US WEST's claim was like "a bloody-handed criminal blaming his victim after the fact." The intensity of such rhetoric has grown almost daily since the strike began.
Responding to accusations of negotiation foot dragging, the union says in news releases the company forced workers into a strike. "It completely defies common sense that our employees and their families wanted to endure the hardship of forgoing a paycheck and walking the picket lines, or that they would want to prolong that experience one minute longer than necessary," said Sue Pisha, a union district vice president.
Colorado, US WEST's headquarters state, was the hotbed for vandalism just before and just after the strike was called at 12:01 Aug. 16. New Mexico is now seeing the highest incidence of vandalism to company equipment, said US WEST spokeswoman Emily Harrison.
Union representatives have repeatedly said they do not endorse or condone violent acts and that incidences of vandalism are an ongoing part of the business but are only being reported by the company now because of the strike.
None of the vandalism to telephone equipment has directly been blamed on strikers, and some is obviously coincidental.
Gophers, for example, are blamed for gnawing through a fiber optic cable that knocked out service to about 6,800 southern New Mexico customers.
A few union members are crossing picket lines as the strike continues, but many desks in US WEST offices remain empty as managers fill jobs in repair and customer service positions.
Orders for new products or service filed at the company's Web site (www.uswest.com) have tripled since the strike began. Directory assistance requests at US WEST's on-line information service (www.uswestdex.com) have also jumped, Harrison said.