Employee headcount: The rise and fall of job numbers at Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint

While it's useful to compare employee figures, Verizon and AT&T manage extensive ventures beyond their wireless operations, and therefore their numbers can’t be directly compared with those from Sprint and T-Mobile, which almost exclusively focus on the wireless industry.

How many people work for the nation’s Tier 1 wireless carriers? That’s the simple question this report aims to answer.

The data below are derived from Securities and Exchange Commission filings from the nation’s largest wireless carriers for the past three years. In reviewing these numbers, it’s clear that AT&T is by far the largest employer in the wireless carrier space. It’s also clear that AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have all reduced their employee headcounts during the past three years, while T-Mobile has slightly increased its employee headcount.

However, these figures carry plenty of caveats. First, and perhaps most importantly, these figures aren’t specific to the wireless business. Verizon and AT&T manage extensive ventures beyond their wireless operations, and therefore their numbers can’t be directly compared with those from Sprint and T-Mobile, which almost exclusively focus on the wireless industry. AT&T and Verizon only report their total employee headcounts and don’t provide any numbers specific to wireless.

Furthermore, employee figures can fluctuate due to a variety of factors, including changes in business strategies, changes in technology and mergers and acquisitions (such as AT&T’s purchase of DirecTV and Verizon’s sale of some of its wireline operations to Frontier Communications).

Thus, there’s rarely one clear reason for a rise or decline in the number of employees for a company that employs tens—or hundreds—of thousands of people.

Nonetheless, it’s worth looking at how some of the nation’s largest telecom companies compare with each other on this key metric. Scroll below the numbers for details on each carrier, including the number of unionized employees they have.

 


AT&T

With 264,530 employees, AT&T is among the top 20 employers in the United States.

When asked to comment on the carrier’s headcount numbers, the operator supplied this statement: “It’s not uncommon for our employment levels to fluctuate over the course of time. Today, we’re adding people in many parts of our business that are experiencing higher customer demand. At the same time, technology improvements are driving higher efficiencies and there are some areas where demand for our legacy services continues to decline. Our employment figures reflect all of these factors.”

Further, in the carrier’s SEC filings, AT&T disclosed the extensive presence of unionized employees within its ranks. Specifically, AT&T said, at the end of the first quarter, roughly 48% of its employees were represented by the Communications Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or other unions. In addition, many of those employees have either recently ratified a new contract or are negotiating a new contract.

“Work stoppages or labor disruptions may occur in the absence of new contracts or other agreements being reached,” AT&T noted in its filing.

Of course, AT&T’s employee figure reflects not only the operator’s extensive wireless business, but also its wireline operations and its new DirecTV satellite business. And AT&T’s employee headcount could swell by 25,000 if the operator is successful in its efforts to purchase Time Warner.


Verizon

Verizon attributed its notable headcount decline last year to the sale of its wireline assets in California, Florida and Texas to Frontier, with employees moving from Verizon to Frontier. The carrier also has suffered a notable slowdown in its wireless business, which it is seeking to rejuvenate this year with the offer of unlimited wireless data for $80 per month.

As for unionized workers, Verizon said fully 23% of its workforce is represented by a union. Indeed, it was some of those unionized employees who brought Verizon’s wireline business to a standstill last year.


T-Mobile

T-Mobile is the only operator to show a slight increase in the overall number of its employees during the past three years, from 45,000 to 50,000. That growth also tracks with the dramatic gains the operator has made in the wireless space over the same time period.

Interestingly, T-Mobile in 2014 and 2015 said just 30 employees were covered by a collective bargaining agreement, but that figure apparently changed to zero at the end of last year. That’s roughly the same time period that T-Mobile created its T-Voice worker group, which was subsequently targeted by a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge.

Earlier this year, the NLRB judge ruled that T-Mobile “engaged in certain unfair labor practices” and needs to “cease and desist” its corporate support of the T-Voice worker group it created in 2015. The Communications Workers of America union hailed the action as another step toward its goal of unionizing T-Mobile’s workers under its own group, called T-Mobile Workers United.


Sprint

Sprint representatives acknowledged that the operator’s declining employee headcount was largely a result of cost-cutting efforts by Sprint’s CEO Marcelo Claure. In fact, BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk recently pointed out (reg. req.) that Claure’s cuts during the past three years—which included a nearly 25% reduction in headcount—helped lower Sprint’s cost base by roughly $5 billion.

And more cost cuts are on their way: “We expect to take out a couple of billion dollars of cost,” Sprint’s Claure said during a recent appearance at an investor conference, in comments transcribed by Seeking Alpha and noted by Piecyk.

However, Sprint executives noted that Sprint’s employee headcount numbers are the result of a variety of factors including changes to its strategy and its technologies. They added that a large number of employees at other companies like Ericsson work exclusively on Sprint’s business but are not counted as Sprint employees.

Finally, Sprint may well raise its employee headcount in the coming months as the company works to expand its distribution. Sprint’s Claure recently said the operator expects to grow from 1,000 company-owned stores to around 1,800, an effort that will likely result in additional employee hirings.

Sprint does not have any unionized employees.


Eli Richman contributed to this report.