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AT&T OPERATORS TO STRESS THE HUMAN TOUCH OVER VOICE 'ROBOTS' ON BUSIEST CALLING DAY

 AT&T OPERATORS TO STRESS THE HUMAN TOUCH OVER VOICE 'ROBOTS'
 ON BUSIEST CALLING DAY
 WASHINGTON, May 8 /PRNewswire/ -- On Mother's Day, May 10, the year's busiest long-distance phoning day, AT&T telephone operators will participate in actions around the country stressing to customers the unique services that human operators provide -- and which machine "robot operators" can't.
 The union is highlighting the dozens of life-saving actions documented each year by AT&T operators.
 AT&T plans to replace up to one-third of its operator force with voice recognition systems, a move that has become a major issue in the current national contract negotiations between AT&T and the operators' union, the Communications Workers of America.
 The CWA-AT&T contract covering 100,000 workers expires on May 30.
 Operators this Sunday plan to give customers the special brand of service they say they'd prefer to give all the time, but are often thwarted from delivering by relentless management speed-up programs.
 "Customers aren't generally aware of the enormous pressure operators are under to get rid of one caller and get on to the next or face discipline for averaging too many seconds per call over the workday," said CWA Vice President James Irvine, chief union negotiator for the AT&T workers.
 "Our operators are going to make sure AT&T customers are completely delighted with their phone service -- human phone service -- this Mother's Day," he noted.
 CWA operators not on duty Sunday will participate in a variety of actions, including leafletting, rallies and talk-show appearances stressing the theme: "Only live operators can save lives."
 Operator Life-Savers
 Examples of life-saving efforts cited by CWA in recent months include those of Terri Richardson of Bloomfield, Ind., and Michael Giometti of Glen Ellen, Calif., who both saved the lives of small babies who were choking and had stopped breathing.
 In each case, parents dialed for an operator -- "911" was busy in the California instance -- and were lucky enough to reach operators who could give first-aid instructions while they simultaneously contacted emergency professionals.
 In another case, if a voice "robot" had been handling the call instead of Lisa Lucas of Indianapolis a tragedy may have resulted. Lucas was putting through a collect call that was answered by a tiny, hysterical child. The little girl was in the custody of a grandmother who had fallen and was lying unconscious, seriously injured.
 "I sized up the situation right away, traced the address and got emergency help to the home while I soothed the little girl," said Lucas. "A robot operator would have just kept saying, "I don't recognize that response."
 "This year alone, there are many Americans who are alive today only because of the actions of experienced telephone operators," said CWA President Morton Bahr.
 "And in community emergencies like the recent California earthquake and the urban riots following the Rodney King verdict, the extra efforts of dedicated operators and technicians provide vital communications links and services that we take for granted," he noted.
 AT&T's current plan calls for closing 23 operator centers and cutting as many as 6,000 operator jobs over the next two years as the company introduces a voice recognition system for operator-assisted dialed calls. The computerized system uses a recorded operator voice which gives the customer a series of menu choices and asks for precise spoken responses.
 CWA believes the present announced job cutback may only be the first step. "As the capabilities for voice recognition develop, we have no doubt that the company intends to virtually eliminate the telephone operator altogether," said Irvine.
 Bahr stressed that "this isn't a case of the union trying to stand in the way of progress." CWA members, he said, have accepted and adapted to technological change continuously for decades in the volatile telecommunications industry.
 "We do question, however, whether change always, always equates to progress," said Bahr, adding: "In the case of robot operators, it's a winner for AT&T in terms of cost savings, but the rest of us will be losers. Customers will be losing the high quality, personalized service they expect and pay for -- with no lowering of phone rates, you can be sure. And long-term workers who are dedicated to providing that service will be losing their jobs only to contribute to the ranks of unemployed in this terrible recession."
 As CWA bargains a new contract with AT&T, job security has emerged as the key issue, and the endangered operators are only one highly visible aspect of what the union contends is a pattern of "excessive job cuts to maximize short-term profits at the expense of customer service and AT&T's long-term best interest," in the words of Irvine.
 "The alarming AT&T network failures we've seen the past couple of years are directly related to the obsession with cost-cutting we've seen by this spectacularly profitable company," Irvine said. "They've eliminated thousands of experienced technicians. They've cut to the bone, and now they're cutting the heart out of AT&T," he charged.
 CWA represents over 600,000 workers in telecommunications, printing, publishing, media, health care, and the public sector in the United States and Canada, including 100,000 U.S. workers at AT&T.
 AT&T Operator Services Offices Scheduled For Closing due to Robotics (Voice Recognition Technology):
 Alcoa, Tenn.
 Anaheim, Calif.
 Billings, Mont.
 Birmingham, Ala.
 Brookhaven, Ill.
 Burbank, Calif.
 Charlotte, N.C.
 City of Commerce, Calif.
 Collinsville, Ill.
 Dallas, Texas
 Davenport, Iowa
 Des Moines, Iowa
 Glen Burnie, Md.(A)
 Grand Rapids, Mich.
 Howell, N.J.(A)
 Kansas City, Mo.
 Lakewood, CO
 Lansing, Mich.
 Middleboro, Mass.
 Orlando, Fla.
 Pensacola, Fla.
 Pittsburgh, Pa.
 Redwood City, Calif.
 Santa Rosa, Calif.
 Shreveport, La.
 Smyrna, Ga.
 Springfield, Mass.
 Syracuse, N.Y.
 Tacoma, Wash.
 Westchester, Fla.
 Youngstown, Ohio
 (A) Offices Closed or Previously Announced to Close.
 Earliest Possible Close: November 1992
 Latest Possible Close: December 1994
 Voice Recognition Technology will first be deployed in Seattle and Jacksonville, Fla., in June 1992.
 -0- 5/8/92
 /NOTE: Besides the Mother's Day peg on this release, the "robot" operator issue will be a continuing major focus of CWA's bargaining in national talks with AT&T as the May 30 contract deadline approaches. Call for local media contacts and TV interview arrangements./
 /CONTACT: Jeff Miller or Gaye Williams Mack of the Communications Workers of America, 202-434-1172/ CO: Communications Workers of America; AT&T ST: District of Columbia IN: TLS SU:


DC -- DC003 -- 8076 05/08/92 12:05 EDT
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