At&t Workers Hope for a Quick New Contract

Friday, April 24, 2009

By: Deanna Long



By Deanna Long

A few weeks ago, I received an unexpected "stimulus" about the economy. It didn't feel good. In fact, it felt like a painful hit to the gut. During the course of the day I received four anxious phone calls from friends whose sons, daughters, nephews or husbands had just lost their jobs.

Financial disasters hawked by television's talking heads had become personal.

My husband and I have worked hard all our lives, and we now live somewhat securely on a limited retirement income. Cliché or not, it is the American way, and we lived it. We taught it to our kids--work hard now; be safe and play later.

That's why I was surprised when another friend called to tell me that her son might be out of work. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) had voted to strike when their contract expired. That meant her son might be walking a line instead of installing one. I couldn't believe folks would voluntarily stop their jobs and their salaries. What were they thinking, especially in these precarious times?

That question plagued me until I decided I wanted to find out. I've had some fancy titles during my career, but basically I researched and gathered information. So, I thought I should be able to "find" the answer.

My first step was to call Erin Hall, President of the CWA Local 6316, and ask her about the strike.

Hall was polite and pleasant, but there was no denying the somber tone and fatigue in her voice. Obviously declaring a strike unsettles everyone. She said they had hoped the union and AT&T would reach a successful agreement. When it didn't happen, local union members held an impromptu midnight candlelight ceremony to "mourn" its loss when their contract expired. They wanted to bolster each other and demonstrate that a strike is always a sad result.

Hall said that some people don't even like to use the term "strike." They prefer to use the more polite term "work stoppage." She told me AT&T doesn't use either term. Their word is "CP09"--short for "Contingency Plan 2009." I think that means their plan for continuing business as usual for the company even if their workers walk off their jobs.

My talk with Hall opened the door to other union avenues for lots more information. Most of it was surprising and alarming. Let me put it this way--facts can be funny things, including inaccurate if they are misrepresented or taken out of context.

Here's what I learned about AT&T and the contract issues with its employees:

*The expired contracts cover nearly 100,000 AT&T workers represented by the Communications Workers of America.
*Members voted by an 88 percent yes vote to authorize a strike if a fair contract isn't reached.
*Negotiators have made little progress in the areas of health care, retirement security and employment security.
*As a show of good faith, union members are reporting to work and complying with the expired contracts.
*The union still hopes will achieve a new contract without a strike in effect.
*CWA has made it clear to AT&T that it is ready to bargain at any time.
*CWA Executive Vice President Annie Hill believes "AT&T negotiators chose to drag out negotiations without a plan for settlement."
*Several CWA districts have been forced to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board, charging that AT&T has refused to provide information necessary to resolve many outstanding issues.
*It is a misconception that workers' health care needs are met free of charge to them. In fact, in spite of its profits, AT&T is demanding that workers take on even more health care costs than they already pay.
*AT&T workers in the states of Connecticut, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas have or are expected to have expired union contracts.

A young local union member told me that he is willing to strike because he wants to protect his good job and quality of life. He said that what he--and co-workers and retirees--have today is because of sacrifices made years ago by others before him. How can he not help to hold the line or do anything less than that for employees who follow when he is retired? I thought he put it in the proverbial nutshell.

That same young man told me the CWA Local 6316 had two information picket lines today--

*From 7-9 a.m. at the AT&T Central Office, 800 Broadway and
*From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the AT &T Call Center on Silver Springs Rd. where 225 call attendants continue to work in spite of an expired contract.

He said they want the consumers to know about them and their concerns for future AT&T employees. I didn't get his name, but I got his message loud and clear--they're not asking for more money, more holidays, more perks--just job and retirement security and affordable health benefits.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: