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Rank-and-File Union Members Are Leading Another Massive Strike. This Time It’s AT&T Workers.

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

Thousands of AT&T employees across the Midwest are entering the sixth day of a rare, rank-and-file-led work stoppage over alleged unfair labor practices. The union representing them, Communications Workers of America (CWA) District 4, has been in contract negotiations with AT&T since March. While members voted overwhelmingly in April to authorize a strike if necessary, the decision to walk off the job last week was not coordinated by union leadership or subject to an official vote.

Instead, the union says that the action was a spontaneous one resulting from widespread anger at the company. In recent weeks, the union alleges that AT&T has tried to bypass its elected bargaining team by e-mailing thousands of workers directly. A May 22 e-mail outlined what the company termed a “final offer” and encouraged employees “to urge CWA leadership to provide you with an opportunity to vote for it.”

CWA filed unfair labor practice charges against AT&T, alleging that this message constitutes bad-faith bargaining and “direct dealing” that violates the company’s duty to negotiate with the union as workers’ sole collective bargaining representative. The charges are still pending.

But in the meantime, the company sent three more e-mails, and workers’ frustration reached a boiling point, according to the union. Resentment had already been bubbling up over the AT&T’s decision to conduct more than 1,000 layoffs soon after receiving a windfall from the passage of federal tax reform. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson was a prominent backer of the tax law, which he said would allow the company to create 7,000 jobs.

Not only were the e-mails from the company “disrespectful,” says Beth Dubree, secretary treasurer of CWA Local 4900 in Indiana, they “didn’t even really discuss job security.” Throughout last week, she says, “Our members kept calling, wanting to know why the company was doing this.”

Work stoppages that protest illegal behavior by employers are generally considered protected activity under federal labor law, and so-called unfair labor practice strikes are often an important component of union strategy. But spontaneous, rank-and-file-led walkouts that cross state and occupational lines are almost unheard of in recent years. CWA District 4 represents some 9,500 AT&T technicians, call center representatives and other personnel across Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Thousands of workers in every state eventually took part, but the walkout started in Indiana.

In These Times spoke to several local elected officials and members about how the strike picked up momentum.

Early Thursday morning, one group of technicians in Local 4900 “decided that they had had enough” and walked off the job before their 7:00 a.m. shift, according to Dubree. Thanks to a group text chat, “the entire local knew about it by 7:30,” she says. Most workers’ shifts started at 8:00 a.m., and by that time, “no one went to work.”

“It was amazing how fast it spread,” says Dubree. “There wasn’t even a hesitation.”

Word traveled quickly to other states with the aid of a closed Facebook group to coordinate mobilization across the district. Jim Simons, executive vice president of Michigan’s CWA Local 4009 and a 28-year AT&T employee, said that he began receiving calls with news of the Indiana walkout at 8:00 a.m. “The next thing I know, all of Ohio is out,” he says. “At 1:00 p.m., I got the call that two of my garages had walked out.” Soon after, most of the local’s more than 800 members joined in.

Simons says that workers in his local were already livid about layoffs and outsourcing. AT&T was among the companies praised by President Trump for giving out $1,000 dollar bonuses to employees after the passage of tax reform. But according to CWA, the company also laid off more than 1,500 employees in December. “When you do the math, those bonuses were paid for by the layoffs,” says Simons. Some workers in his local donated their bonuses to members who lost their jobs.

AT&T did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the walkout, but the company has released a statement that reads, “We’re offering a generous package including annual wage increases, continuation of job security provisions that are virtually unheard of in the U.S., and comprehensive health care and retirement benefits. In addition, the offer includes a commitment to hire 1,000 people in the region. All employees covered by the offer would be better off.”

But in April, CWA released a report charging that in the past seven years, AT&T has laid off more than 16,000 call center workers nationwide, shipping jobs to lower-paying call centers overseas. Last year, AT&T and other big companies boasted that tax reform would allow them to create more jobs in the United States, and CWA is among several unions now pushing the companies in bargaining to reveal whether they plan to follow through. In its fourth-quarter 2017 financials, AT&T said that tax reform helped boost the quarter’s net income to $19 billion, compared to $2.4 billion in the same period a year before.

Anger over the tax cuts was front and center at a demonstration in Chicago this spring, where thousands of members gathered at AT&T headquarters to rally for a contract. During the rally, someone in the building put a sign in the window that read, “No one cares,” according to Simons. “You put all that together, and people were ready” to strike, he says.

As of Tuesday, most members in Wisconsin and Illinois have returned to work, but thousands in Michigan, Ohio and all of Indiana remain on strike, according to the union.

Tim Strong, president of CWA Local 4900 and a member of the District 4 bargaining team, also credits the wave of teacher strikes this year in inspiring members to walk out. Bargaining with AT&T is continuing this week over key issues including job security, use of contractors and healthcare costs, he says.

In the meantime, members have pulled off the longest work stoppage their union has seen since 1989. “I think it’s a reflection of the movement in this country—that you saw teachers who in many cases don’t even have collective bargaining rights going on strike,” says Strong. “And now 9,000 members decided to take this leap of faith and fight.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on June 5, 2018. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Rebecca Burns is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has appeared in The Baffler, the Chicago ReaderThe Intercept and other outlets. She is a contributing editor at In These Times. Follow her on Twitter @rejburns.

40,000 AT&T Workers Begin 3-Day Strike

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Around 40,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) at AT&T walked off their jobs Friday, for a three-day strike, as pressure continues to mount on the corporation to settle fair contracts.

In California and Nevada, around 17,000 AT&T workers who provide phone, landline and cable services have been working without a contract for more than a year. Last year, they voted to authorize a strike with more than 95 percent support. And in February, an estimated 21,000 AT&T Mobility workers in 36 states voted to strike as well, with 93 percent in favor.

Workers had issued an ultimatum, giving company executives until 3 p.m. ET on Friday to present serious proposals. They didn’t; the workers walked.

It isn’t the first strike at AT&T. Some 17,000 workers in California and Nevada walked off the job in late March to protest company changes in their working conditions in violation of federal law. After a one-day strike, AT&T agreed not to require technicians to perform work assignments outside of their expertise. Nevertheless, the biggest issues for workers remained unresolved.

AT&T has proposed to cut sick time and force long-time workers to pay hundreds of dollars more for basic healthcare, according to CWA. At a huge April rally in Silicon Valley, CWA District 9 vice president Tom Runnion fumed, “The CEO of AT&T just got a raise and now makes over $12,000 an hour. And he doesn’t want to give us a raise. He wants to sabotage our healthcare then wants us to pay more for it. Enough is enough!”

AT&T is the largest telecommunications company in the country with $164 billion in sales and 135 million wireless customers nationwide. It has eliminated 12,000 call center jobs in the United States since 2011, representing more than 30 percent of its call center employees, and closed more than 30 call centers. Meanwhile, the company has outsourced the operation of more than 60 percent of its wireless retail stores to operators who pay much less than the union wage, according to CWA.

The relocation of jobs to call centers in Mexico, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic and other countries is one of the main issues in negotiations. A recent CWA report charges that in the Dominican Republic, for instance, where it uses subcontractors, wages are $2.13-$2.77/hour. Workers have been trying to organize a union there and accuse management of firing union leaders and making threats, accusations and intimidating workers. Several members of Congress sent a letter to President Donald Trump this year demanding that he help protect and bring call center jobs back to the United States.

“We’ve been bargaining with AT&T for over a year,” CWA president Chris Shelton told the rally in Silicon Valley. “They can easily afford to do what people want and instead are continuing to send jobs overseas.”

According to Dennis Trainor, vice president of CWA District 1, “AT&T is underestimating the deep frustration wireless retail, call center and field workers are feeling right now with its decisions to squeeze workers and customers, especially as the company just reported more than $13 billion in annual profits.”

“The clock is ticking for AT&T to make good on their promise to preserve family-supporting jobs for more than 40,000 workers,” Trainor said before the start of the strike. “We have made every effort to bargain in good faith with AT&T, but have only been met with delays and excuses. Now, AT&T is facing the possibility of closed stores for the first time ever. Our demands are clear and have been for months: fair contract or strike.”

Last year, CWA members at Verizon were on strike for 49 days, finally gaining a contract with greater job protections and winning 1,300 new call center jobs. Since December, AT&T workers have picketed retail stores in San Francisco, New York, Boston, Seattle, Chicago, San Diego and other cities, hung banners on freeway overpasses, organized rallies and marches and confronted the corporation at its annual meeting in Dallas.

“Americans are fed up with giant corporations like AT&T that make record profits but ask workers to do more with less and choose to offshore and outsource jobs,” said Nicole Popis, an AT&T wireless call center worker in Illinois. “I’ve watched our staff shrink from 200 employees down to 130. I’m a single mother and my son is about to graduate. I voted yes to authorize a strike because I’m willing to do whatever it takes to show AT&T we’re serious.”

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on May 19, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Bacon is a writer, photographer and former union organizer. He is the author of The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration (2013)Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (2008), Communities Without Borders (2006), and The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the US/Mexico Border (2004). His website is at dbacon.igc.org.

Workers Stay on Job as AT&T Contracts Expire and Negotiations Continue to Avert a Strike

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Laura ClawsonContracts for about 40,000 unionized AT&T landline workers represented by the Communications Workers of America expired over the weekend. Four divisions are governed by separate contracts; 9,000 AT&T Mobility workers ratified a new contract last week.

The landline workers had voted March 31 to authorize a strike if new contracts weren’t reached, but they have continued reporting to work under the terms of the now-expired contracts as negotiations continue:

“We’re committed to continuing to work together with the union to reach an agreement that will allow us to continue to provide and protect” jobs, Marty Richter, a spokesman for AT&T, said in an e-mail after 5 p.m. [Sunday.]

On a call late last week with members:

[CWA Vice President Seth] Rosen summed up the goals of all four negotiations: “We have a very clear common goal that when it is all added up — wages, benefits, the complete package — that every single member, from the lowest paid to the highest, will be better off at the end of the contract than he or she was at the beginning.”

As is usual in negotiations these days, health care costs are at issue, as well as scheduling and job security questions.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on April 9, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

16,000 Workers Ratify New Contracts at AT&T - and More Bargaining News

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

This post originally appeared in the AFL-CIO blog on October 5, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

New contracts for 16,000 AT&T core wireline workers, members of CWA and IBEW, and more news from the “Bargaining Digest Weekly.” The AFL-CIO Collective Bargaining Department delivers daily, bargaining-related news and research resources to more than 1,200 subscribers. Union leaders can register for this service through our website, Bargaining@Work.

SETTLEMENTS

CWA, AT&T: Members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) ratified a new three-year contract with AT&T. The pact, covering 7,000 core wireline workers around the country, includes a 9 percent pay increase over the term and maintains quality health care.

IBEW, AT&T: Nearly 9,000 core wireline workers in Illinois and Indiana, members of the Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 21, ratified a new three-year agreement with AT&T on Tuesday. Nearly half of AT&T’s 120,000 wireline workers have ratified contracts, while negotiations continue with CWA in the East, Southeast and Southwest regions.

USW, Bridgestone-Firestone: Completing the latest round of rubber tire industry bargaining, United Steelworkers (USW) members at Bridgestone-Firestone ratified a four-year agreement covering 4,500 workers at seven plants. Wages and benefits are protected, including health care for both active and retired workers. Members also ratified new agreements with Goodyear and Michelin.

UNITE HERE, Multiple Casinos: Members of UNITE HERE Local 54 overwhelmingly approved a new two-year contract with four Atlantic City casinos. The agreement with Harrah’s Atlantic City, Bally’s Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City and the Showboat Atlantic City provides wage increases for most workers and guarantees benefits will not be cut.

AFSCME, City of New Britain: AFSCME Local 1186 ratified a new contract with the city of New Britain, Conn., last week. The new contract comes just months after a four-year contract was reached, but since then, the city’s budget has suffered with the economic downturn. The new contract includes a six-month wage freeze in exchange for a no-layoff guarantee.

AFM, Grand Rapids Symphony: Members of the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians (AFM) ratified a new two-year contract with the Grand Rapids Symphony. The 80 musicians will maintain there current pay but agreed to small cuts in benefits to avoid layoffs.

Multiple, Kennecott Utah Copper: Members of four unions have ratified a seven-year contract with Kennecott Utah Copper. The contract, covering 1,280 members of IBEW, Machinists (IAM), Operating Engineers (IUOE) and USW, includes a wage increase of approximately 5 percent each year.

Multiple, State of Rhode Island: Three of four state employee unions in Rhode Island have voted to approve the contract proposed by Gov. Donald Carcieri. SEIU Local 580, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) Local 400 and a health care worker’s arm of the National Education Association (NEA-Ind.) voted for the agreement, which includes 12 furlough days over two years but avoids layoffs. The state’s largest public sector union, AFSCME Council 94, will tally its votes tomorrow.

NEGOTIATIONS

IFPTE, Spirit AeroSystems: The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), IFPTE Local 2001, has reached a tentative agreement with Spirit AeroSystems. The contract would cover 783 engineers and includes a 3 percent bonus, annual wage increases and guaranteed compensation for overtime. Union negotiators unanimously recommended members vote in favor of the agreement.

AFSCME, State of Illinois: An Illinois judge issued an injunction last Monday to halt the layoff of 2,600 Illinois state workers, saying it violated the workers’ union contract. AFSCME Council 31 filed the lawsuit to prevent the layoffs of its members, many of whom are corrections officers, arguing that prison layoffs would risk the safety of the remaining corrections workers. The state and union will head to arbitration.

IAM, Daimler Trucks: The IAM is hopeful for a new contract at a Daimler Trucks plant in Oregon, which the company had previously announced would be shut down. The company put on hold plans to transfer work from Portland to Mexico and North Carolina, saying it received a new military contract, but the union says the plans changed because of the large amount the company would have to pay out for pensions if it shut down.

BCTGM, Kellogg Inc.: The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers has reached a tentative three-year agreement with cereal maker Kellogg Inc. The contract would cover 1,450 workers at four plants, represented by Local 3-G in Battle Creek, Mich., Local 50-G in Omaha, Neb., Local 252-G in Memphis, Tenn., and Local 374-G in Lancaster, Penn.

UAW, Deere and Company: UAW has reached a tentative agreement with agricultural equipment maker Deere and Co., covering 9,500 workers and 17,000 retirees. The proposed six-year contract will be voted on by 15 UAW locals.

Multiple, City of L.A.: The Los Angeles City Council approved a plan to offer early retirement to 2,400 city workers. The plan would offer cash bonuses to workers who retired early, in an attempt to save money and avoid possible layoffs. The Coalition of City Unions must vote to ratify the plan before it returns to the city council for final approval.

CNA/NNOC, Temple University Hospital: Nurses at Temple University Hospital postponed a three-day strike, which was to start Friday. The members of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP-CNA/NNOC) overwhelmingly rejected a proposal by Temple University Hospital.

Multiple, Republic Airways Holdings Inc.: Flight attendants and pilots for Midwest Airlines, represented by the Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) and the Air Line Pilots (ALPA) respectively, continue to negotiate over seniority lists with the Teamsters (IBT), which represents crews of Midwest’s new owner, Republic Airways Holdings Inc. Midwest’s legacy crews face layoff by Dec. 1, when the Boeing 717 jets they fly will be grounded.

Disclaimer: This information is being provided for your information only. As it is compiled from published news reports, not from individual unions, we cannot vouch for either its completeness or accuracy; readers who desire further information should directly contact the union involved.

About the Author: Belinda Boyce. Before joining the AFL-CIO Collective Bargaining Department as research analyst, I worked for six years in the AFL-CIO Organizing Department: three years in Voice@Work and three years in the Center for Strategic Research, working on organizing, issue, and political campaigns. I attended Penn State University, where I became a rabid fan of Nittany Lion football, and later graduated from Florida State University College of Law.

AT&T v. Hulteen: A Bad Decision that Did Not Have to Be

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

In AT&T v. Hulteen Justice Souter authored the 7-2 majority opinion holding that AT&T’s “reliance” interest in perpetuating past pregnancy discrimination trumps the right of  Noreen Hulteen and her fellow plaintiffs to enjoy the same level of retirement benefits as other employees with the same longevity of service to the company.  This is a deeply unfair decision, contrary to the intent of Congress, and utterly unnecessary.

At oral argument Justice Souter acknowledged that the case could go either way, because there were competing lines of legal authority from which the case could be viewed.  The Court’s choice to immunize AT&T’s conduct from liability by resurrecting General Electric v. Gilbert, 429 U.S. 125 (1976), a decision overturned by Congress’ enactment of  the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, provides a vivid illustration of conservative judicial activism under the guise of  “strict” application of the rule of law.

There was nothing inevitable about this decision. Gilbert holds that denying medical benefits to pregnant women is not “necessarily” sex discrimination, not that disparate treatment of pregnant women could never be.  In fact, one year later Justice Rehnquist, who authored Gilbert, wrote the majority opinion in Nashville Gas Co. v. Satty, 434 U.S. 136 (1977) holding that burdening pregnant women by forcing them to forfeit earned seniority is sex discrimination.

In this case, AT&T’s pregnant employees were deprived of all but 30 days of seniority credit for the time they were out on pregnancy leave, while employees on leave for other disabilities forfeited none. The Court chose to characterize this disparate treatment of pregnant employees as not providing a “benefit,” permissible under Gilbert.  But it could just as easily have decided that it created a “burden” constituting illegal sex discrimination under Satty.

Another choice the Court made was to treat the case as a challenge to AT&T’s seniority system as a whole, rather than to a specific, post-PDA retirement benefit calculation. There is a vast difference, recognized by the courts, between “competitive” seniority and “benefit” seniority.  The Hulteen plaintiffs did not seek to obtain a competitive advantage over male co-workers, or any other retroactive benefit.  They merely sought equal treatment in the calculation of future compensation — retirement benefits“ to which they are clearly entitled by the explicit language of the PDA: “[W]omen affected by pregnancy….shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work…”

In holding as it did, the majority chose to “empathize” with AT&T rather than the retiring women who had already endured a lifetime of disadvantage on the job as a result of their pre-PDA pregnancy leaves.  The majority weighed speculative harm to AT&T’s “reliance” interest more heavily than Congress’ explicit, strongly worded intent to protect women from economic injury and injustice on the basis of pregnancy.

But to what end?   To establish the principle that companies may perpetuate discrimination even after Congress acts?    What the Court chooses to call a “retroactive” application of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act could just as easily be described as enforcement of the statute.

No wonder Justice Ginsburg was figuratively tearing out her hair!  There could not be a better illustration of what is at stake in the appointment of Justice Souter’s replacement nor of the need for another woman with Justice Ginsburg’s understanding of employment discrimination on the Supreme Court.  Let’s hope that Congress acts swiftly to overturn this exceedingly bad decision, in language that will finally lay to rest the ghost of Gilbert past.

About the Author: Charlotte Fishman Charlotte Fishman is a San Francisco employment discrimination attorney, and Executive Director of Pick UP the Pace.  She authored the an amicus brief for the National Employment Lawyers Association et al. in support of respondents in AT&T v. Hulteen.

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