AT&T West Coast workers protest offshoring jobs, claim poor rural call completion

CWA District 9 demonstrates on Feb. 23
Telco workers represented by CWA are increasingly concerned about job outsourcing in the industry. Image: CWA

AT&T workers represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union recently held a protest railing against the telco’s move to reduce healthcare benefits and outsource jobs to other countries.

The group in CWA’s District 9 region in San Diego, California, protested at the intersection of San Diego Mission Road and Interstate 15 on Friday.

CWA said in a statement that AT&T has outsourced thousands of jobs to India, Mexico, the Philippines, Jamaica and other countries. At the same time, the union said some premises technicians are being required to work overtime hours with no advance notice, for multiple days and weeks.

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The union said that AT&T also wants to shift more healthcare costs to workers and their families.

“The company is also short-changing customers and communities by failing to meet minimum regulatory standards and charging customers more for basic services,” CWA said in a statement. “Despite the financial success, the company is asking its workers to do more for less—keeping them from their families with unpredictable overtime, undercutting pay and advancement, offshoring good jobs, and pushing more healthcare costs onto employees."

Strike looming?

In the West region, 15,000 CWA-represented AT&T workers in California and Nevada are citing similar concerns to those the union raised with Verizon.

After not being able to reach an agreement with Verizon, workers represented by CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) voted to go on strike in 2016.

Similar to AT&T, CWA and IBEW members employed by Verizon cited concerns about the telco’s move to offshore 5,000 jobs to the Philippines, Mexico and other locations, outsource work to low-wage contractors and transfer workers to other states, which keeps workers away from their families for months at a time.

Contract talks between AT&T workers in California and Nevada, according to the CWA, “are breaking down” and “workers have already voted to go on strike."

At this point there has been no report of AT&T workers going on strike.

CPUC tightens rural reporting requirements

CWA workers’ protest came on the heels of the California Public Utility Commission’s (CPUC) 3-2 vote to require phone companies to report outages.

CPUC will now have the authority to adjust the number of total user minute outages before reporting kicks in. It will start at 90,000, but can now be adjusted up to 900,000.

In the Revised Proposed Decision written by Commissioner Catherine Sandoval, telcos like AT&T would have to provide a 24-hour contact number so that local and state emergency service offices can immediately reach a carrier to report hazardous conditions and resolve outages.

“The company is also short-changing customers and communities by failing to meet minimum regulatory standards and charging customers more for basic services,” said Tom Runnion, VP of CWA District 9, in a statement. “The California Public Utilities Commission voted to improve reporting requirements for landline outages that impact rural telephone service and access to emergency services.”

According to studies the CPUC conducted in 2011 and 2012 of rural phone service, nearly 16% of calls could not be completed and another 4% to 8% had poor quality.

For its part, AT&T said that it is working cooperatively with CPUC to find ways to maintain the condition of its rural networks.

“Safety is always a priority at AT&T [and] we support the goal to improve communication between rural public safety officials and communications providers,” an AT&T spokesperson told FierceTelecom in an e-mail. “We have offered constructive amendments to the Commission to better focus on rural communities and ensure continuity of communications among all public safety agencies, state and local.”

AT&T added that it looks “forward to working with the CPUC and all stakeholders to improve and promote public safety in California.”