AT&T workers vote to authorize strike

AT&T workers said they will hold 35 rallies across the U.S. in support of their cause in the coming days.

AT&T union members across three dozen states voted to authorize a strike if they can’t hammer out a new pact with the carrier.

A nationwide contract covering more than 21,000 retail, call center and technical employees is set to expire Saturday, and more than 90% of members of the Communications Workers of America gave their approval of a potential strike. The workers said AT&T has cut pay and benefits as well as outsourced jobs overseas.

“We are drawing a line in the sand,” said Nicole Popis, an AT&T call center worker from Illinois, in a conference call this morning. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to win a fair contract.”

AT&T argued that it hired nearly 20,000 people into union-represented jobs in the U.S. last year, however, and plans to fill 4,200 more union-represented positions. The carrier claims to be the nation’s largest employer of full-time, union-represented labor, and is the only major U.S. wireless company with a unionized workforce.

And AT&T noted that a vote to authorize a strike isn’t uncommon.

“A strike vote is a routine, not unexpected step in negotiations of this sort and is often part of the process,” AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said via email. “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 competitive wages and benefits. We’re confident an agreement will be reached.”

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.

Those employees continued to work for Verizon for months after their contract had expired before finally approving a walkout, as Bob Master, a CWA political director, noted on this morning’s call.

“We always consider a strike as a last resort,” Master said, adding that it’s “impossible to predict” when AT&T workers might actually strike. “It really has to do with what’s happening at the bargaining table, and what our leaders decide is the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, AT&T workers said they will hold 35 rallies across the U.S. in support of their cause in the coming days.