Regulators in two states appear ready to penalize US WEST for service delays resulting from a strike by the phone company's major union.
But Utah Public Service Commission Chairman Steve Mecham said that regulatory agency is taking more of a "wait and see" approach to the situation."To this point, I don't think (delays) have yet reached a level where we're prepared to step in," Mecham said Thursday.
Regulators in Oregon and Washington have said they are holding US WEST to service agreements despite the strike of 34,000 Communication Workers of America members, including about 2,200 in Utah.
The Oregon Public Utilities Commission told the company its Oregon customers are entitled to a cell phone or a $100-a-month credit if the strike delays new service for more than five days under consumer protection rules.
US WEST executives said such rules should not apply during the strike.
Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission spokesman Tim Sweeney said the commission has not waived any of its powers to penalize US WEST for strike-related service problems.
"We do have penalty authority based on whether the company fails to meet service quality. We have no plans to waive the penalty authority during the strike period," Sweeney said.
Regulators in other states, including Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa and Arizona, say the service standards do not apply during strikes.
Mecham said the Utah PSC met with US WEST officials for an unrelated hearing Thursday morning, and the service issue did come up for discussion.
"US WEST said they would give us information regarding the work stoppage, and we'll have to figure out what we need in order to make certain assessments," Mecham said. "We did discuss the fact that there is still a requirement to provide quality of service to customers, and if that deteriorates significantly . . . we do have a real concern."
Some complaints have come in to the state's Division of Public Utilities, he said, but the division's information is not complete.
"You've got to look at the status almost day by day to see what's going on out there," Mecham said.
Michael Frandsen, US WEST spokesman in Salt Lake City, said the company will provide regular updates to the PSC and utilities division and will try to address their concerns.
"We value their input and listen closely to what they have to say," he said.
Frandsen said the company is "several weeks behind" locally for new phone installations, although that time frame is dramatically shorter for hook-ups that do not require a visit by a technician.
"Right now, we're working with customers to try to find other services to try to address some of their needs during the interim.. . .," Frandsen said. "Certainly, the due dates we're offering customers aren't what we want."
The only sure way to take care of the delays is to resolve the strike, he said.
Top issues in the CWA strike include mandatory overtime, health-care benefits and a performance-pay proposal. Both sides have agreed to remain silent to the media while talks are under way.
The CWA strike, the first in US WEST's 14-year history, began Aug. 16. The company has about 25 million customers in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.