AT&T workers demonstrate solidarity to oppose company greed

Three groups of AT&T union workers joined together on February 11 to denounce AT&T’s greed, express their frustration with AT&T’s lack of concern about its workers, and to demand a fair contract.

AT&T  Mobility Orange Contract workers in 35 states, AT&T wireline workers in California and Nevada, and AT&T DirecTV workers rallied for fair contracts at AT&T wireless retail stores and call centers in 36 cities throughout the US. They are members of the Communication Workers of America (CWA).

The three groups are involved in three separate collective bargaining negotiations, and union members are frustrated with the company’s lack of respect for its frontline workers.

“AT&T is underestimating the deep frustration wireless retail, call center, and field workers are feeling right now with its decisions to squeeze workers and customers, especially as the company just reported more than $13 billion in annual profits,” said Dennis Trainor, vice president of CWA District 1. “Nationwide, AT&T workers’ resolve to win has never been stronger, and when telecom workers commit to winning a fair contract, they don’t back down.”

AT&T Mobility Orange Contract wireless technicians, customer service representative, and retail store employees began negotiating in January.

The union says that the company during negotiations has failed to address key concerns of its workers. Subsequently, 93 percent of the union members voted last week to authorize a strike.

“Americans are fed up with giant corporations like AT&T that make record profits but ask workers to do more with less and choose to offshore and outsource jobs,” said Nicole Popis, an AT&T wireless call center worker from Illinois.  “I’ve watched our staff shrink from 200 employees down to 130. I’m a single mother and my son’s about to graduate. I voted yes to authorize a strike because I’m willing to do whatever it takes to show AT&T we’re serious–the company must address these issues and bargain a fair contract.”

Since 2011, AT&T has cut 8,000 call center jobs and moved these jobs to other countries. At 60 percent of its retail stores, the company has outsourced good paying union jobs to private contractors who pay lower wages and provide fewer benefits.

The company is also seeking to increase health insurance premiums for long-term employees and to deny pension benefits for new hires.

Retail store workers want the company to increase their commissions, and all wireless workers want a fair wage increase that recognizes the vital role they play in making the company’s robust profits possible.

Orange Contract Mobility workers were poised to go on strike when their current collective bargaining agreement expired on February 11, but  on the eve of the strike deadline, the two sides agreed to continue bargaining.

While the bargaining continues, the existing collective bargaining agreement remains in effect. The union can still strike after it gives the company a notice of its intention to strike 72 hours before the strike begins.

“The union and company remain very far apart on all issues important to our members,”reads a message from the union’s Bargaining Team to union members. “The Bargaining Team is not here to settle, we are here to fight, and we feel energized by all the mobilization we see across the Orange Contract footprint. AT&T is greedy and their proposals are unfair and appalling.”

AT&T wireline workers in California and Nevada who maintain and repair telecommunications infrastructure and install and repair telecommunications equipment in homes have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement since April.

In addition to being frustrated with AT&T’s lack of responsiveness at the bargaining table, union workers are concerned that AT&T isn’t investing enough in its telecommunications infrastructure.

The consequences of this lack of investment were exposed in January when severe storms hit the West Coast.

According to the union, storm related outages increased by 350 percent during the January storms because the company’s telecommunications  infrastructure was too old. Workers are concerned that outages will be even worse when the next storm hits.

In addition to not investing in infrastructure, union members charge the company with not investing in its workers.

Union members are seeking improvements to their health care benefit, a benefit that was shaped in 2009 while the company was feeling the after shock of the Great Recession. As a result, worker health care costs have increased substantially. For some members, increased health care costs have resulted in stagnant or lower take home pay.

Wireline workers also want a decent pay increase. The union reports that during the last five years, company productivity increased 25 percent, but pay increased only 17 percent.

“The company’s priorities are backwards . . . because the frontline, which is the employees in the call centers, the technicians in the manholes, (and) in the houses, are the ones (who the company) gets (its) profits from,” said Armando Zepeda, an AT&T Premises Technician.

Last year, 95 percent of AT&T’s California and Nevada wireline workers authorized a strike, but the union and company have continued to negotiate.

Like their wireless counterparts, wireline workers could go on strike after giving the company a 72-hour notice.

If both groups go on strike at the same time, AT&T could be facing a strike by 38,000 of its workers.

AT&T DirectTV workers in CWA District 9 are also negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.

They joined CWA last year, and this will be their first contract. Bargaining began on February 8.

In September, CWA reached an agreement on a first contract for 2100 DirectTV workers in the Southeast and Midwest.

That contract provides for the same wage progression schedules in contracts covering CWA members at AT&T in those regions.  Those DirecTV workers also will receive wage increases every six month until they achieve the top of the wage progression scale.

The tentative agreement also provides for health care coverage; disability, savings and pension benefits, a grievance and arbitration process, and coverage under the national transfer plan, among other benefits.

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