AT&T workers on strike!

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.

Grievance strike hits AT&T West; workers demand a fair contract

Seventeen thousand AT&T West technicians and call center workers returned to work on March 23 after participating in a grievance strike that affected AT&T’s communication services in California and Nevada.

The grievance strike was called by Communication Workers of America (CWA) District 9 to protest the company’s efforts to expand the duties of premise technicians.

Premise technicians install and maintain AT&T’s U-Verse television and internet service, but last July, the company issued a document requiring them to perform work done by higher paid service technicians who maintain and repair telephone and cable lines.

“We went on strike to demonstrate to the country that we will not do more work for less pay, especially when it puts us in a position not to deliver the best possible service,” said Robert Longer, a member of CWA Local 9421 in Sacramento, California.

The strike lasted one day and ended after the company agreed to rescind the document requiring premise technicians to perform expanded job duties.

“Our grievance strike was a success,” read a statement issued by CWA District 9. “Our premise technicians will no longer be required to work outside of the scope of the their duties.”

The scope of premise technicians’ duties has been one of the sticking points keeping AT&T and the union from reach a fair agreement on a new contract.

The union and AT&T West have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement for more than a year.

The current agreement expired in April 2016, but the two sides have continued to negotiate.

When the company in July attempted to circumvent the bargaining process and unilaterally expanded the scope of premise technician duties, union members filed a number of grievances to prevent the expansion.

The union was negotiating with the company to resolve the grievance, but the negotiations broke down.

In a statement explaining the reason for the strike, the union said that AT&T disrespected the bargaining process and “reneged on an agreement to resolve the (premise technician) dispute without any explanation.”

“We are on strike today because AT&T is hurting us all by violating their bargaining obligations with the union,” said Robinson Paiz, a maintenance splicer from Los Angeles.  “We don’t want to let our customers down, but AT&T left us with no other choice. AT&T needs to get serious and honor its contract with us so we can keep servicing our customers.”

The union and its members are hoping that the grievance strike will make it clear to AT&T that they are serious about negotiating a fair new collective bargaining agreement.

There are other contract issues that have yet to be resolved.

Union members want to keep their health care benefits intact without the cuts proposed by the company; they want the company to hire more workers to deal with the chronic under  staffing; and they want to protect their jobs against offshoring.

AT&T has outsourced thousands of call center jobs abroad to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines.

AT&T recently closed its largest call center in Oakland, leaving those who remain on the job nervous about their futures.

“The fact that AT&T has moved a lot of jobs (abroad) has hurt a lot of us here in the United States,” said one California call center worker. “I talk to my children a lot about Mommy not being employed anymore.”

“When they get rid of the jobs in our communities it affects a lot of other businesses in the communities,” said another California call center worker.

Union members also want the company to hire more workers. “We’re short staffed,” said another AT&T worker.

Short staffing is causing workers to work a lot of forced overtime.

“Forced overtime can happen anytime, and any day,” said another AT&T worker. “You can’t make plans in the evening because you don’t know what time you’re going to get off.”

Forced overtime is also interfering with family life. Workers miss special events like birthday parties for family members and everyday events like spending time with their children.

Short staffing, forced overtime, health care cuts, outsourcing, and the expansion of the scope of premise technicians’ work are all the results of AT&T attempts to cut labor costs.

These cuts aren’t coming at a time when ATT&T is struggling.

In fact, AT&T makes a billion a month in profits and its CEO Randall Stephenson received $28.4 million in compensation for 2016, a 13 percent increase over the previous year.

But the company is getting pressure from its Wall Street investors to reduce labor costs so more of the wealth created by the company’s workers can go to investors.

“While AT&T is extremely profitable, the company has become disconnected from the day to day issues facing workers and customers,” said a statement issued by CWA. “Despite the financial success, the company is asking its workers to do more for less — keeping them from their families with unpredictable overtime, undercutting pay and advancement, offshoring good jobs, and pushing more health care costs onto employees. At the same time, customers are paying increasingly higher bills to AT&T for essential services.”

Unions: Trumpcare hurts workers; enriches the already rich

The Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, was filed in Congress on March 6.

The official title of the Republican bill is the American Health Care Act (AHCA), but D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, is calling the new bill “Trumpcare.”

When the bill was introduced, labor unions condemned it as a gift to the rich paid for by the working class.

One week after the bill was introduced, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis of Trumpcare. The CBO analysis confirms that the unions are right.

The New York Times reports that according to the CBO analysis, Trumpcare cuts taxes on the wealthy and corporations by $1 trillion over the next ten years.

Those taxes help pay for federal subsidies that made health insurance affordable for many workers.

Trumpcare eliminates the subsidies, putting affordable health care out of reach for millions of workers.

It also reduces Medicaid funding by $880 billion and caps the growth of future funding. The reduction and cap will cause millions of low-income workers to lose Medicaid coverage.

“This isn’t a health care plan, it’s a shameful handout to corporations and the wealthy paid by working families who will pay for the tax cuts with less coverage,” said Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) when the bill was first introduced.

“President Trump and the Republican Party ran on a promise to immediately repeal the ‘broken’ Affordable Care Act and replace it with something ‘great’,” said Taylor. “Instead, what was unveiled by House Republicans is a plan that slashes health care coverage for millions of Americans.”

Taylor made his statement before the CBO released its analysis.

If anything Taylor may have underestimated the number of people who will lose coverage.

The CBO analysis states that the Trumpcare will cause 24 million people to lose health care coverage over the next ten years. Fourteen million will lose coverage within a year of its passage.

One reason that workers will lose health care insurance is that Trumpcare eliminates Obamacare subsidies for purchasing health insurance and replaces it with tax credits.

But the Trumpcare tax credits are less generous than Obamacare subsidies and don’t increase as the price of health insurance increases.

Additionally, Trumpcare would allow insurance companies to charge older workers much more than younger workers, but  tax credits for older workers will be the same as younger workers.

Trumpcare would also phase out the Obamacare expansion of Medicaid, which made Medicaid available to many more low-income workers.

Trumpcare also changes the nature of Medicaid, which would no longer be a government benefit for workers who meet certain income requirements.

Instead, the federal government would provide grants to states. The states would determine eligibility rules and the level of benefits.

If the federal grant does not cover the cost of everyone who is eligible, benefits would be rationed. Some would get them; others wouldn’t.

“Trumpcare will gut Medicaid expansion and subsidies that have made lifesaving health care available to millions of Americans,” said Taylor.

Trumpcare could also cause employers to drop health insurance benefits for their workers.

Forbes reports that up to 7 million workers could lose their employer-based insurance benefit because of Trumpcare.

One of the reasons that workers may lose their employer-based health care benefit is that Trumpcare maintains the Obamacare excise tax, a 40 percent tax on employer-based health insurance whose premium costs exceed the national average of health care premium costs.

The high cost of the excise tax could cause some employers to drop employee health care insurance. Others may cut benefits to avoid the tax.

The excise tax would  especially hurt union workers, who through years of struggle have won good, affordable employer-based health care insurance.

By maintaining the excise tax, Trumpcare “will drive up already skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs and drive down coverage for the vast majority of Americans under age 65—more than 177 million—who get health insurance through work,” said Taylor.

RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United (NNU), also joined the chorus of union leaders criticizing the anti-working class nature of Trumpcare.

“The principal effect of the new bill will be the loss of existing health coverage for tens of millions of people, without any restraints on health care industry pricing practices that add up to massive health insecurity for the American people.” writes DeMoro writing for Common Dreams.

Health care in the US can’t be fixed, continued DeMoro until “our broken, dysfunctional, profit-focused health care system (is replaced by) an improved Medicare for all system,” which would expand Medicare so that it covers everybody.

DeMoro writes that NNU is building grassroots support for a single-payer health care plan like Medicare in the state of California “that could become the national model (for) an alternative to both the ACA and the fraudulently named GOP American Health Care Act.”

 

Tentative agreement with AT&T creates good-paying union jobs

A new tentative agreement between the Communication Workers of America District 6 (CWA) and AT&T creates 3000 new good-paying union jobs.

The tentative agreement covers 20,000 AT&T union workers in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Most of the 3000 new union jobs had previously been outsourced to other countries; others had been outsourced to US contractors who pay their workers less than union wages and benefits.

Union members must still ratify the tentative agreement. The union will hold a town hall teleconference on March 9 to provide details about the agreement to members.

A summary of the agreement is available on the CWA District 6 website.

The date of the ratification vote has yet to be scheduled.

In addition to creating 3000 new jobs, the new agreement raises pay by 10.75 percent over the next four years. Pay increases by 3 percent in 2017, 2.5 percent in 2018, 3 percent in 2019, and 2.25 percent in 2020.

Pay increases are offset somewhat by increased worker health care costs. According to the union, take home pay will increase despite the higher health care costs.

The tentative agreement also includes for the first time two weeks of paid leave for parents to bond with a new born or adopted child. Mothers will continue to receive six weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child.

The 3000 new jobs are largely call center jobs that had been outsourced abroad.

Bringing these jobs back home bucks a trend. For years now, companies have been moving call center jobs abroad in order to reduce labor costs.

Outsourcing call center work hurts workers who lose their jobs and many others.

According to a report on call center offshoring published by CWA,

As US companies offshore and outsource call center jobs, communities lose. In many communities, the loss of a call center means the loss of a pillar of the local economy. In many cases, because of the intense pressure from cheaper, less regulated foreign operators, when companies export US jobs, they also exert downward pressure on wages and working conditions at home.

In hopes of reversing the offshoring trend in the call center industry, CWA is supporting the US Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act, which was introduced into both the US House of Representatives and Senate on March 2.

“This call center legislation is just common sense,” said Jennifer Szpara, a CWA member who works for Verizon. “It would help keep good call center jobs here in the US. It would give customers who are connected to an overseas call center the right to be transferred back to the US. And it would mean that companies that do send good jobs overseas wouldn’t be rewarded with taxpayer-funded grants and loans. It’s a win for customers, workers, our communities, and our employer.”

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.

Union joins consumer and environmental groups in suit to stop”one in, two out” executive order

The Communication Workers of America (CWA) joined Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, and the Natural Resources Defense Council in suing the Trump administration to block implementation of a recent executive order requiring federal agencies to eliminate two existing regulations for every new one that they issue.

The plaintiffs are concerned that the executive order will diminish protections against discrimination, public health, worker safety, consumer protection, and the quality of the environment.

CWA President Chris Shelton said that Trump’s so-called “one in, two out” Executive Order imperils worker safety by requiring the elimination of existing job safety regulations when the need arises to write new ones.

“This order means that the asbestos workplace standard, for example, could be discarded in order to adopt safeguards for nurses from infectious diseases in their workplaces,” said Shelton. “This violates the mission of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect workers’ safety and health. It also violates common sense.”

While President Trump touted his executive order as a boon to small business, the bulk of the order’s benefits will go to large corporations.

Public Citizen President Robert Weissman blasted Trump’s order as a gift to big business at the expense of workers, public health, consumers, and the environment.

“No one thinking sensibly about how to set rules for health, safety, the environment, and the economy would ever adopt the Trump Executive Order approach–unless their only goal was to confer enormous benefits on big business,” said Weissman. “If implemented, the order would result in lasting damage to our government’s ability to save lives, protect our environment, police Wall Street, keep consumers safe, and fight discrimination.”

Weissman also criticized Trump’s Executive Order for establishing a new regulatory budgeting system that requires the net cost of new regulations to be zero, meaning that agencies must offset the cost of the new regulations by cutting existing regulations.

“By irrationally directing agencies to consider costs but not benefits of new rules, it would fundamentally change our government’s role from one of protecting the public to protecting corporate profits,” Weissman said.

The public benefits of regulations are often ignored, but according to the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the public benefits of regulations often far exceeded their costs.

OMB has developed a methodology for estimating the costs and benefits of regulations and reports this information to Congress.

Project on Government Oversights reports that the draft of OMB’s most recent report estimates that the annual public benefit of all major regulations over the last ten years amounts to between $208 billion and $627 billion; on the other hand, the cost of these regulations ranges from $57 billion to $85 billion.

In 2005 when the OMB was headed by a Republican appointee of President George W. Bush, its cost-benefit analysis of regulations  found that the annual benefits over a ten-year period amounted to between $69.6 billion and $276.8 billion while the costs ranged from $34.8 billion to $39.4 billion.

In addition to ignoring the public benefits of regulations, the Trump Executive Order forces agencies to make what Rhea Suh, president of the National Resources Defense Council, calls the “false choice” of determining what public benefits must be sacrificed in order to write a new regulations.

 

“President Trump’s order would deny Americans the basic protections they rightly expect,” said Suh. “New efforts to stop pollution don’t automatically make old ones unnecessary.”

The plaintiffs’ suit if successful will prevent agencies from being forced to make these kinds of false choices.

The lawsuit was filed on February 8 in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. According to a statement issued by the plaintiffs, “the complaint alleges that . . . agencies cannot lawfully comply with the president’s order because doing so would violate the statutes under which the agencies operate and the Administrative Procedure Act.”

“When presidents overreach, it is up to the courts to remind them no one is above the law and hold them to the US Constitution,” said Patti Goldman, an Earthjustice attorney and one of the attorneys working for the plaintiffs. “This is one of those times.”

T Mobile workers step up their organizing campaign

T-Mobile Workers United (TU) solidified their position as a permanent force for worker rights at the US’ third largest wireless carrier when on July 25 it opened its first field office in Wichita, Kansas.

“T-Mobile workers in Wichita are ready for a seat at the table, and the opening of this local office is proof of the momentum of our campaign to come together as workers and collectively bargain with our employer,” said Angela Melvin, a customer service representative at T-Mobile’s call center in Wichita. “We have come such a long way in building our union at T-Mobile, and I know there is much work to be done.  I cannot wait to see what the building of this union has in store for us!”

TU has been fighting since 2008 to improve workers lives at call centers and retail stores owned by T-Mobile and T-Mobile’s affiliate MetroPCS.

As a result of TU’s work, T-Mobile workers now have paid parental leave, a scheduling policy that doesn’t punish people for being sick, and the right to speak freely on the job..

In April, TU took another step toward becoming a more effective organization by electing chief stewards at seven T-Mobile call centers.

The stewards will listen to workers as they talk about the changes that they would like to see at the company, lead the workers’ meetings with management, train others on labor laws and workplace rights, and truly represent the workers’ voice at T-Mobile.

The ultimate goal of TU is to win a collective bargaining agreement that ensures that these victories can’t be taken away and that more improvements can be achieved.

Melvin discovered what it looks like to work in a call center where workers belong to a union when she took a recent trip to Germany to address the annual stockholders meeting of Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s owner.

Deutsche Telekom’s workers belong to a union called ver. di.

“What I took away is that the Germans are a great role model on how to treat employees with dignity and respect,” said Melvin. “What I loved most about their call centers is how the environment was a smaller work space and not so hectic with noise and other distractions and that their metrics just don’t randomly change from month to month. It is also amazing to learn that they have unlimited paid sick days and they are an extremely productive company. I also love their scheduling model, which provides predictable schedules for a whole year that take workers’ personal situations into consideration and is not based on performance.”

Ver. di has taken a special interest in the union organizing drive undertaken by TU and together with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which has been supporting TU, has established the TU Council, a cross Atlantic organization of T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom workers that fosters cooperation between the two companies’ workers.

As a gesture of solidarity with their counterparts in the US Lothar Schröder, a leader of ver.di, attended TU’s office opening in Wichita.

“Ver.di and CWA have been working in solidarity and friendship together for many years,” said  Schröder, who is also the vice chairman of the Deutsche Telekom board of directors. “Forming TU in 2008, we made an important and unique step for the global labor movement in furthering our international union cooperation. Now with the opening of the TU field office in Wichita, we continue on this path. Ver.di and I are committed to do what it takes so that T-Mobile workers can freely decide whether they want to join a union to have a voice in the workplace.”