A strike by 40,000 Communication Workers of America (CWA) members closed AT&T stores across the US.
Union members went on a three-day strike that began on Friday, May 19 to protest AT&T’s lack of respect for its workers.
Despite reporting hefty profits of nearly a $1 billion a month, said CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor, “AT&T continues to pinch its workers’ basic needs and stand in the way of high-quality service (that) its customers pay good money for.”
Trainor said that AT&T has been outsourcing what were once good-paying jobs to third party contractors who pay low wages and few benefits.
He also complained that AT&T wants to reduce worker health care benefits and is unwilling to give its union workers a pay raise that sufficiently rewards them for their contribution to the company’s success.
Striking workers belong to four different bargaining units that are negotiating four different contracts.
The AT&T Orange Mobility contract covers 21,000 call center and retail workers in 36 states; the AT&T West contract covers 15,000 workers in California and Nevada, the AT&T East contract covers 2000 workers in Connecticut, and the DirecTV contract covers 2000 workers in California and Nevada.
The AT&T West contract expired more than a year ago, and the AT&T Orange Mobility contract expired in February.
DirecTV workers, are negotiating their first collective bargaining agreement. AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015.
One of the workers’ main concerns is that their new contracts protect their jobs against outsourcing.
AT&T has eliminated 12,000 call center jobs, or 30 percent of its call center workforce, in the US and shipped those jobs abroad to a network of 38 call centers in eight foreign countries.
According to a recent report by the CWA, contractors operating these call centers pay their workers “pennies on the dollar compared to US wages.”
AT&T is also outsourcing retail store jobs to third party contractors.
“AT&T has moved more than 60 percent of its wireless retail jobs to third-party dealers that create profit for the company but cause major headaches for workers and customers alike,” writes Carissa Moore, a CWA member in the state of Washington, who audits customer accounts for AT&T.
Workers are losing good paying jobs and customers are getting poor service, continues Moore.
“AT&T’s third-party dealers are misleading and misinforming people of all ages and backgrounds in Seattle and across the country,” writes Moore. “I’ve seen customers get pushed to add products and services they don’t need, under the guise of being free, and receive unexpected charges and activation fees that weren’t disclosed that increase their monthly bills.”
The striking workers say that while the strike may inconvenience some customers in the short run, in the long run customers will benefit if more of the work is brought back in house and done by workers directly accountable to AT&T and their customers.
James Stiffey, an AT&T retail worker in Pittsburg, said that he was on strike because AT&T is disrespecting both its workers and its customers.
“Our strike is about demanding conditions that allow us to provide better service for customers too,” said Stiffey. “We are standing together to win a fair contract that protects customers, families and entire communities—and we’ll do whatever it takes to get it.”
CWA members spent much of the three-day strike picketing AT&T retail stores. Fortune reports that the strike closed AT&T retail stores from Montana, to Chicago, to Bangor, Maine.
“As a father, striking is not an easy decision for me,” said Mark Bautista, an AT&T wireline worker in California. “But to make sure I can give my kids the future they deserve, we must take a stand against any and all attempts to skimp on good jobs and financial security. And our fight for a fair contract is about more than just my co-workers and me—it’s about fighting a system that’s been rigged against us and way too many others for far too long. On the picket lines today, I’ll be chanting ‘No Contract, No Peace,’ until I lose my voice.”
Although the strike ended at 12:01 A.M. Monday morning, Bautista and other CWA members said that if AT&T doesn’t listen to its workers, they’re willing to strike again, and next time, it could be for more than just three days.