Back to School: Rising to the Challenge Of Personal and Career Growth

They work days, study nights and weekends, make good use of cutting edge technology - and help each other grow, personally and professionally. They are CWA members, many with families who work at a variety of jobs in telecommunications. Their aspirations vary. But, as pointed out by the Commission for a Nation of Lifelong Learners at its national conference, they have one thing in common: the determination to earn a college degree.

"When I was in school the first time, I promised my dad if he'd let me get married, I would finish college," said Carol Broadhurst, a Bell Atlantic service representative and member of CWA Local 2108 near Washington, D.C.

"Of course, I didn't. I dropped out and started working."

With tears in her eyes she explained she had returned to school to fulfill her promise to her now deceased father.

At the conference, Broadhurst received a Learner of the Year Award from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, a consulting organization that administers CWA's education programs at Bell Atlantic and U S West.

Hope of getting a promotion was one deciding factor in her decision to return to school, but there are deeper, personal reasons. Broadhurst is a widow, her children are grown.

After 18 years with the company and her changed family circumstances, Broadhurst was more than ready to study. She's already earned her associate degree. She's on the dean's list for good grades and well along on earning a bachelor's degree in business administration from Columbia Union College.

Broadhurst is enrolled in one of a wide range of education programs CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have bargained with Bell Atlantic. They now all come under the heading of FutureLink, administered by CAEL under the direction of a training advisory board executive council of four union leaders and four from management. The company pays tuition and fees, with some limitations.

The council this year funded a new position, that of training liaison, currently held by former CWA Local 1022 executive vice president Ellie Smith. With Smith on board, CWA members have an advocate to help them pursue their aspirations and to seek further improvements in the program.

Next Step

Through collective bargaining with the former NYNEX and Chairman Ivan Seidenberg, CWA and the IBEW have taken educational benefits a step further. In 1995, Bell Atlantic launched the first-ever associate degree program for telecommunications technicians.

Bargaining unit employees get one day per week off, with pay, to attend classes at New York City and New York state colleges. Bell Atlantic pays for tuition, books and fees and even issues each student a laptop computer to use for the duration of their studies. Upon graduation technicians receive a 5-percent salary upgrade.

The program is open to all union-represented workers, who must pass a skills assessment test to gain entrance. CWA Co-Director John Alphonse says workers in clerical titles immediately get upgraded to technician titles with a corresponding raise in pay. The courses bring them up to speed on the latest technical developments in their field.

"The Next Step program is a wonderful example of what can be accomplished when the company and union work together," says CWA District 1 Vice President Larry Mancino. "Everyone wins. The employee becomes more valuable to himself, the company and the customer."

More than 13,000 workers indicated interest in the program in its first year. Next Step has yet to expand to CWA Districts 2 and 13.

The Alliance

Wanda Biggs Reeves is one of about 60 remaining correspondence and report assistants, or CARAs, at Lucent Technologies. On Oct. 5, she became the first student from Lucent to graduate from SUNY Empire State College's Alliance College program, receiving an associate degree in science, mathematics and technology, with a concentration in computer information studies.

The program is an outgrowth of a variety of education benefits CWA and IBEW have bargained for AT&T and Lucent employees since 1986.

"With the jobs dwindling away, I wanted to make sure I had an education," says the 10-year AT&T/Lucent veteran. "I want to thank CWA for teaming up with the Alliance. It really has helped me. Without the program, I wouldn't have been able to go to school."

Reeves was able to transfer 18 credits from previous college work and received 22 more of the 64 required through evaluation for skills gained at Lucent and for prior technical training. The remaining 22 she earned through correspondence courses and computer online courses offered as part of the program's distance learning concept.

When at times she felt discouraged, she received encouragement from Lee Hudson, Local 3890 secretary-treasurer and part of the joint labor/management Alliance committee. Two hundred such committees nationwide evaluate AT&T and Lucent workers' educational needs and help them through the Alliance education programs.

The Alliance College program, in which Reeves participated, is designed to train network systems installers for Lucent, to work in 500 locations around the country where Lucent provides services for the Bell companies, cable TV and private telecom networks.

"The traditional work will change," says Art Wiskoff, president of CWA's Installation/CARA Presidents' Council. "The vision years ago was a picture phone; we have that now. In the future, the Internet may replace long distance."

He says Lucent technicians are evolving to become professional consultants who advise customers as well as perform technical work and that a higher level of education is important to building career security.

Victor Haburchak, a former CWA member and now senior associate director of the Alliance, explained that the telecom degree program was put together by a Workplace of the Future educational development committee co-chaired by Wiskoff. They talked to corporate vice presidents and installers, then, at the insistence of CWA's Communications and Technologies Vice President Jim Irvine, added labor history and other courses on the value and workings of the union. Irvine, CWA District 1 Vice President Larry Mancino and District 7 Vice President Sue Pisha are all Alliance board members.

Wiskoff said an average of 140 workers have enrolled each semester since the program was launched in January 1996, for a total of 385. Lucent Customer Service Vice President Edward Janas, co-chair of the advisory committee, said that in January 1997 a spin-off program will be rolled out to serve all job titles throughout Lucent and AT&T.

Reeves is hopeful her education will land her a promotion, but Janus admitted as of yet there is no guarantee.

Mindful of upcoming bargaining, said Wiskoff, "We have to negotiate that."