AT&T workers in 36 states to vote on strike authorization

CWA of America said 21,000 wireless workers are frustrated with AT&T's decisions and tactics. Image: Mike Mozart/Flickr

AT&T workers in three dozen states are voting on whether to authorize a strike if they can’t negotiate a new pact with the carrier. But that doesn’t mean a work stoppage is imminent.

The Communication Workers of America said the 21,000 wireless retail, call center and technical workers “are fed up with AT&T’s decisions to cut pay and benefits and outsource jobs.” The carrier has demanded givebacks during ongoing bargaining talks, the union said, and “wants to force employees to pay 32% of their medical benefits, eliminate pensions for all new hires and end future pension contributions for current employees” while reducing sick time allotments.

The workers’ contract is up Feb. 11, although union members could continue to work beyond that date as negotiations continue. The vote has already begun and results could be announced as soon as next week.

“AT&T is underestimating their workers’ anger, frustration and commitment to winning a fair contract,” said Dennis Trainer, vice president of CWA District 1, in a statement distributed to media outlets. “The company is trying to eliminate opportunities for working families and we won’t stand for it—we can and must win a fair contract … We will not let them take more and more from the employees that built their company.”

The CWA was involved in a 45-day strike last year 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 a union representative described as “an incredible victory” for the workers.

AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said that a strike vote “is not an unexpected step in negotiations of this sort,” however. While AT&T doesn’t discuss specific proposals, Richter said the carrier isn’t proposing to cut employees’ pay or take away benefits.

“We’re continuing to bargain with the union and we’re committed to reaching a fair agreement that will allow us to continue to provide solid union-represented careers with excellent wages and benefits,” Richter said via email. “We’re confident that an agreement will be reached.”

Richter added that AT&T hired nearly 20,000 people into union-represented jobs this year and is looking to fill 4,200 more such slots.