ATLANTA -- Unionized BellSouth employees voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if no agreement is reached before their contract expires, the union said Monday.
Jimmy Smith, spokesman for the Communications Workers of America, said there was unusually high participation in the vote. He said 93 percent of those voting were for strike authorization.
"It's a reflection of how people have been treated and how the bargaining process has been going," Smith said.
With the current contract set to expire at midnight Saturday, the two sides have been meeting daily to negotiate on an agreement for the 48,000 workers in BellSouth's nine-state region.
Smith said there was no progress to report Monday, but BellSouth spokeswoman Deborah Spicer said progress had been made and company officials remain confident a settlement will be reached.
She said BellSouth plans to continue to provide a package of wages and benefits that is above the industry average and includes skills training and opportunities. She added that the average tenure of the union workers is 22 years.
Smith said key issues include retiree and health benefits, the company's contracting-out of work, job security and what the union calls "forced overtime."
The union workers involved include operators, repair workers, cable crews, technicians, administrative assistants and others.
BellSouth hasn't had a strike since it was created in 1984 in the breakup of AT&T. The CWA went on strike against AT&T for three weeks in 1983.
The CWA is North America's largest telecommunications union, representing 600,000 workers overall.
Atlanta-based BellSouth is a $22 billion company that provides telecommunications, wireless communications, cable and digital TV, and Internet and data services to about 30 million customers in 20 countries. Its primary service area is in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.