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The Communication Workers of America (CWA) called a pre-Christmas announcement by AT&T that it will be laying off more than 700 workers in its Southwest region “an extraordinary act of corporate cruelty.”
The union on January 3 filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Austin seeking to stop the layoffs and to reinstate those who subsequently lose their jobs. The lawsuit also seeks compensation for workers harmed by the layoffs.
AT&T, which announced the layoffs on December 14, said that the layoffs would begin on January 4 when 152 premises technicians in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas will lose their jobs.
Premises technicians install AT&T’s internet and internet-based television services.
The company also said that in February, 561 more workers in various job titles will lose their jobs.
Claude Cummings, CWA District 6 vice president, described the layoffs as unprecedented because they come at a time when the company is highly profitable and expanding.
Cummings also noted that AT&T is relying heavily on subcontractors to perform work that union workers could be doing.
“We know that AT&T is using contract employees to do installation work while AT&T premises technicians, who are qualified and do the same work, will be jobless in just a few days,” said Cummings when the union filed suit.
The company justified its mass firings as a business decision based on “changing market dynamics.”
But the union isn’t convinced that “changing market dynamics” is the real reason for the layoffs.
The internet and internet-based television services that premises technicians install are highly profitable and are growing components of AT&T’s business.
In a recent media release aimed at investors, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said that the company’s internet and television business is expanding rapidly.
“We’re . . . on track to have one of the largest high-speed internet networks in the US, reaching more than 50 million customer locations with competitive high speeds,” said Stephenson in a release announcing AT&T’s third quarter results. “This expansion will make our bundled video, mobile, and broadband services even more compelling.”
In the same message to investors, Stephenson said that the company’s third quarter revenue was $39.7 billion and its quarterly profit was $3 billion.
In its lawsuit, the union called the company’s publicly stated reason for the layoffs “a self-serving fabricated fiction” and “palpably false.”
According to the union’s complaint, there is no shortage of work at AT&T.
“In the Austin, Texas area, the Company is subcontracting approximately 80 percent or more of the kinds of work that Premises Technicians are trained and qualified to perform,” states the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also points out that in Dallas, 1000 subcontractors are performing the work of premises technicians.
After being notified on December 12, that the company would be laying off union members, Cummings contacted AT&T and proposed alternatives to the layoffs.
Cummings told the company that it should use union workers to perform the work being done by subcontractors.
He also said that the layoffs should be postponed until the company and union could meet to discuss his proposal and other alternatives to layoffs.
But the company refused to discuss the matter, which the union argues is a violation of Article VIII of its collective bargaining agreement with AT&T.
In addition to layoffs in its Southwest region, AT&T has announced layoffs in other areas of the country as well.
Newsweek on Christmas Eve reported that “AT&T plans to layoff and fire more than 1000 workers” in 2018.
The Chicago Tribune reported that AT&T will be laying off 600 workers in its Midwest region.
In New York, 700 DirecTV installers received pre-Christmas pink slips. DirecTV is owned by AT&T.
These firings come just weeks after Stephenson promised Congress that if it passed the massive corporate tax cut proposed by Republicans, the company would add thousands of new jobs.
In its lawsuit, the union blames the layoffs on the company’s attempt to “diminish the union’s bargaining strength” by reducing the number of employees in the bargaining unit represented by the union.
In a parallel legal action, the union also filed unfair labor practices charges against AT&T with the National Labor Relations Board.
The union’s charge states that AT&T’s layoffs are being implemented in bad faith because the company is violating its collective bargaining agreement with the union by contracting out work that should be done by union members.
“We expected AT&T to invest in our communities and customers, and to create more jobs, as the Republican tax plan promised,” said Cummings. “Instead, AT&T is cutting jobs and working people face layoffs and an uncertain future.”