AT&T, CWA reach tentative agreement

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AT&T and the Communications Workers of America announced a tentative agreement, potentially ending a standoff that could be damaging for the nation's No. 2 carrier if it drags into next year.

The agreement covers 42,000 union workers and addresses health care and other benefits, while wages, pension and work rules for CWA members are negotiated under separate deals. The tentative agreement will be submitted to CWA members for ratification “in coming days,” AT&T said.

CWA said highlights of the proposed agreement include reduced premium costs for 20,000 employees hired after 2014; lower rates for employees with dependent children and no covered spouse; and a new option with lower premium costs. The deal would also enable employees in Puerto Rico to take advantage of popular HMO plans with lower contribution rates.

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The union “accomplished our main goal, which was to put health care benefits bargaining back in the regional bargaining agreement process and to make health care affordable for all mobility workers,” CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor said in an announcement.

AT&T declined to comment on details of the tentative agreement until it is presented for a vote, citing respect for union membership. The current health care contract is in effect through the end of the year and includes a no-strike provision, so a work stoppage isn't an immediate concern.

The news comes just days after tensions between the operator and its union workers were escalating regarding other contract negotiations. Fortune reported earlier this week that 2,000 workers in AT&T’s internet business had voted to authorize a strike as their contract expired last week, and a group of 15,000 traditional telephone employees in California and Nevada have picketed AT&T events as their talks continue.

Those workers may be emboldened by the conclusion 45-day strike by 40,000 Verizon wireline workers that ended in June. That stoppage slowed Verizon’s network investment slightly during the second quarter, according to analysts, and ended with agreements that Trainor described as “an incredible victory” for the union workers.

T-Mobile has also experienced union troubles lately. The National Labor Relations Board said the carrier’s employ handbook violates National Labor Relations Act by citing a “conduct policy” that could be viewed as banning employees from engaging in union activities. The policy’s language is too vague, the Board said, and some employees may not engage with unions for fear of running afoul of the policy.

For more:
- see AT&T’s press release

Related articles:
AT&T West, CWA continue labor contract negotiations, hash out work assignments
Verizon strike officially ends as wireline contracts approved by both CWA, IBEW unions
Evercore: 'Carrier vitriol' toward tower companies likely to fade in march to 5G
Report: CWA claims T-Mo created fake union dubbed T-Voice to sway workers

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