AT&T says Google Fiber's make ready pole proposal could compromise CWA contract

CWA District 9 demonstrates on Feb. 23

AT&T is concerned if Google Fiber is successful in getting a new ordinance passed in Tennessee to streamline the make ready process to string its fiber on local utility poles, the FTTH provider could compromise the telco's union workforce relationship.

If Google Fiber were successful in getting its make-ready ordinance passed, AT&T said it could interfere with its Communications Workers of America (CWA) workforce that has traditionally conducted make-ready work for the telco.

The proposed ordinance would allow Google Fiber to move existing Comcast and AT&T cables itself on utility poles owned by NES. This would circumvent the old “make ready” rules that require Google Fiber to notify NES of the need to make space for its cables, only to have NES contact AT&T and Comcast to execute the actual work. 

Joelle Phillips, president of AT&T Tennessee, told FierceTelecom that the telco has an ongoing agreement with the CWA for decades that it does not want to violate.

“In the Southeast the other issue that Google has not really accounted for in its one touch make ready concept is we have a collective bargaining agreement with the Communications Workers of America,” Phillips said. “One of the provisions of that agreement is we have promised to not allow contractors to move our facilities.”

Phillips added that while Google Fiber could have CWA workers do some of the make ready work, it’s not the same as having a guaranteed contract.

“The response to the organized labor issue was that Google Fiber says they use contractors that hire out of the union hall,” Phillips said. “They’ll give union members an opportunity to do that work, but even if they do that it’s different to pick up a little contracting work as opposed to have a collective bargaining agreement that establishes wages and other terms and conditions.”

Keeping CWA union workers is certainly a priority for AT&T, particularly as the telco has successfully negotiated new contracts with CWA union workers in the Southeast.

In April, AT&T CWA-represented employees voted to ratify a union labor agreement covering more than 9,400 Mobility employees in its Southwest region. Earlier, CWA members ratified a contract with its Southeast wireline operations employees, and smaller regional contracts covering AT&T Billing Southeast and Southeast Utility Operations – totaling about 24,000 wireline employees in the region.

But compromising the union workforce agreement is only one issue.

While AT&T does not question Google Fiber’s ability to find experienced contractors to conduct the make ready work, the telco is seeing the service provider submit incorrect information about the poles.

“Let’s assume they hire the very best contractors, if they give those engineering plans that we get in our application to that contractor I know that’s work that’s going to be done all over again,” Phillips said. “I am seeing many of those that have errors in them that would be corrected so it’s really not so much that they would hire bad contractors but that they might give them bad instructions.”

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