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.”

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.”

IT workers take a stand against “outrageous outsourcing”

Testifying before the University of California Board of Regents, information technology workers called on the board to stop outsourcing of their work.

The University of California system in September awarded a $50 million contract to HCL, an IT staffing company in India, to take over the management of IT infrastructure and networking at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).

As a result, 78 career and contract IT workers at UCSF will lose their jobs in February.

At the November regents meeting, IT workers like Hank Nguyen told the regents and UC President Janet Napolitano how the board’s decision will affect workers and their families.

“The day I received a bill for my daughter’s education at UC is the same day I received a layoff notice from UC,” said Nguyen. “My daughter asked me, ‘Dad, should I continue my engineering education?’ I didn’t know how to respond to my daughter or any other kids who are pursuing STEM degrees.”

Jelger Kalmijn, president of the laid off workers union, University Professional and Technical Employees CWA Local 9119, also testified. He called the board’s outsourcing decision “outrageous.”

If companies and public institutions continue to outsource our jobs, “what future do we have left,” said Kalmijn. “People in the US are sick and tired of losing our decent paying jobs. UC should not be taking leadership on sending those jobs that are our future out of here.”

Kalmijn said that UC shouldn’t be participating in “a race-to-the-bottom, where working people are fighting each other all across the world to see who can be exploited the most.”

“I urge you to take leadership and stop this outrageous outsourcing,” said Kalmijn. “It’s going to save you a couple of pennies for massive political cost, for massive financial costs in the long run, and for massive security costs. It makes absolutely no sense.”

UCSF estimates that the outsourcing contract with HCL will save the university $30 million over five years primarily due to lower labor costs.

The workers facing layoffs and their union have received support from elected officials such as US House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi wrote a letter to Napolitano urging her to “reconsider” the decision to outsource jobs at UCSF.

Pelosi noted that H-IB visas will be issued to workers hired by HCL to replace the UCSF workers, so that they can be trained for their new jobs by those being laid off.

Pelosi goes on to say that such a use of H-1B visa program contradicts the intended purpose of the law.

“The H-1B program was designed to enhance American competitiveness by supplementing the American workforce with highly skilled foreign nationals in the event of critical shortages in the US labor market,” wrote Pelosi. “Congress did not design the program to replace–to outsource–American jobs, or lower domestic wages.

US Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa also wrote Napolitano criticizing the decision to “replace American workers with lower-cost foreign workers abroad.”

The contract with HCL could have implications beyond its immediate impact on the 78 IT workers at UCSF.

UC’s outsourcing contract with HCL allows HCL to be the IT outsourcing contractor for ten campuses in the university system.

The University of California at San Diego (UCSD) has been identified as one of the campuses where HCL workers could replace UCSD workers.

Computerworld reports if that happens, there could be a potential conflict of interest.

According to Computerworld, UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla is a member of the HCL board of directors.

In concluding his remarks, Kalmijn said that UC’s decision to abuse the H-1B visa program to outsource jobs puts it in league with private corporations that have attempted to do the same thing.

“UC follows in the footsteps of many private companies that have been abusing the H-1B visa program, including Southern California Edison, Abbott Laboratories, Eversource Energy, Walt Disney World, Toys “R” Us and New York Life,” said Kalmijn. “But as a public institution, the University of California’s action is even more of a slap in the face to the tech workers, their families and the UC community. We will continue to fight back against this shameful attack on good, family-supporting jobs.”

Union fights employer abuse of H-1B visas to save jobs

A California union is urging members and supporters to sign a petition telling the University of California System President Janet Napolitano to stop the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) from outsourcing information technology jobs .

The University Professional and Technical Employees-CWA Local 9119 (UPTE) is fighting to save the jobs of union members and others affected by UCSF”s decision to replace 17 percent of its IT staff with IT workers hired by HCL Technologies.

HCL Technologies is one of India’s largest IT workforce providers and is currently being sued in the US for abusing the H-1B visa program, which allows foreign nationals to work in the US when they have specialized business skills, which are in short supply in the US. Workers with H-1B visas are not supposed to be used to displace US workers.

UPTE said that it if these layoffs are allowed to stand more could follow and that the petition is only the first step in a fight to stop the layoffs.

“This could be the tip of the iceberg, and who knows what department is next to sell off our livelihoods?” said UPTE in a message to members. “UPTE is prepared to take action, starting with (this) petition. There will be more action items to come,.”

In September, Computerworld reported that the UCSF had signed a five-year, $50 million contract with HCL Technologies to take over a portion of the university’s IT work.

After the contract with HCL was signed, UCSF sent layoff notices to 49 of its career IT staff members, 12 contract workers, and 18 employees of a UCSF vendor.

The layoffs become effective in February.

A UCSF IT worker told Computerworld that UCSF’s decision to outsource IT work would hinder the university’s ability to innovate, and would result in the loss of a wealth of institutional knowledge. The employee also said that the contract with HCL, which UCSF says will save $30 million, puts cost reductions ahead of its mission to be the best provider of health care services.

In addition to educating undergraduate and graduate students, UCSF operates a teaching medical center where doctors and nurses are trained.

The IT workers affected by the layoffs resulting from the outsourcing contract mainly serve the UCSF medical center.

UCSF announced the deal with HCL months after two IT workers in Florida filed suits against HCL and two other companies for abusing the H-1B visa program.

The two IT workers, Leo Perrero and Dena Moore, had worked for Walt Disney World in Orlando, but they along with 250 other IT workers were laid off when Disney contracted out their work to HCL and Cognizant, an IT consulting company.

The New York Times reports that the two separate suits charge HCL, Cognizant, and Disney with colluding to break the law by using workers with H-1B visas to displace US workers.

The two suits have subsequently been consolidated into a class action suit, and the US Labor Department has opened an investigation into the matter.

In its petition to President Napolitano, the union says that, “As a public institution, UC should not be in the business of using legal loopholes and private firms to undermine UC employment” and urges Napolitano to “put the mission of the University first and halt (this outsourcing) immediately!”

Clerical workers strike shuts down operations at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

About 70 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, who work as clerks walked off the job at the APM Terminal’s Pier 400 at the Port of Los Angeles on Tuesday, November 27,  to protest outsourcing. The terminal is the largest at the Port of Los Angeles.

The mostly female workers were ordered by an arbitrator to return to work on Wednesday, but the clerks remained on strike, were joined by union clerks at other terminals, and set up pickets at nine terminals at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Longshore workers who belong to another ILWU local have refused to cross the strikers’ picket lines, effectively closing operations at picketed terminals.

The striking clerks belong to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Marine Clerks Association Local 63 Office Clerical Unit. Local 63 represents about 800 clerks at ports up and down the West Coast. The clerks process shipping documents and perform other clerical duties.

For more than two years they have worked under an expired contract. The clerks and the 14 shipping companies that employ them have not been able to reach agreement on a new contract.

The main sticking point has been outsourcing. “We’ve been meeting with the companies for more than two years, but they’re still concealing their outsourcing – even when they’ve been caught red-handed,” said John Fageaux, president of Local 63. “These employers seem to have an insatiable appetite for outsourcing.”

During the last five years, according to Local 63, 51 jobs performed by unionized clerical staff on the West Coast have been outsourced to Texas and overseas. The companies have announced plans to outsource another 76 in the future.

With the advances that have been made in data processing, it is now much easier for international companies like the ones who employ Local 63 members to contract out the documentation that must accompany all goods shipped to the ports.

The strikers say that thanks to the union their jobs are well paid and have good benefits. They provide a decent middle-class living for these workers. But if the outsourcing is allowed to continue, these good paying jobs will be endangered.

The employers for the last two years have failed to listen to their workers concerns.

“It just comes down to corporate greed,” said Darlene Zuvich, who has processed bills and other record-keeping tasks for Evergreen America Corporation since 1992.  “These companies have the same attitude as the ones on Wall Street – they think they’re better than the rest of us and can’t be worried about the problems that families face in this community.”

Last week Local 63 members decided to strike if the companies continue to insist on outsourcing their work.

“We’ve been patiently negotiating with these big companies for the past 30 months, but they’re refusing to respect our community and want to keep outsourcing good jobs – so we’re drawing the line and standing-up for the community,” said Trinie Thompson, a longtime clerical worker who participated in the negotiations.

On Monday, November 26, the negotiations finally broke off, and the strike began Tuesday at noon.

The workers restricted their strike on Tuesday to Pier 400 at the Port of Los Angeles, but employers were concerned that the strike would spread to other terminals and other ports.

The employers acted quickly to dampen the strike. Tuesday afternoon the employers asked an arbitrator to intervene and force the union workers back to work. On Tuesday night, the arbitrator ruled that the union was bargaining in bad faith and ordered the strikers to return to work on Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday morning, the workers stayed on strike, and pickets returned to Pier 400. Pickets also appeared at other terminals at the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

According to a press statement from the Harbor Employers Association, which represents the clerks’ employers, “after picketing for approximately one hour, (Local 63 members) returned to work at some harbor employers’ off-terminal facilities, but remained on strike at the terminals, shutting down operations in the ports.”

The union and representatives of the shipping companies continued to talk on Wednesday to try to resolve the dispute. A Coast-Wide Arbitrator is set to take up the case soon. Until then, the strike will likely continue unless there is a break through in negotiations.