17,000 AT&T wireline workers in California, Nevada go on strike

Strike signs
Image: Deviant Art via Annosauro Image

Roughly 17,000 AT&T technicians and call center workers in California and Nevada have walked off their jobs, according to the Communications Workers of America union that represents them.

The CWA said AT&T has shown “disrespect to the bargaining process by changing the work assignments of workers without bargaining as required by federal law.” The group added that AT&T “reneged on an agreement to resolve the dispute without any explanation.”

“A walkout is not in anybody’s best interest, and it’s unfortunate that the union chose to do that. We’re engaged in discussion with the union to get these employees back to work as soon as possible,” AT&T said in a statement. The company added that the strike started yesterday when some landline technicians walked out over a dispute in one local, and that the strike has since spread to other areas in California and Nevada. The company said the strike doesn’t include any of AT&T’s Mobility employees.

Moreover, AT&T stated that it’s a “union-friendly company, with more full-time, union-represented employees than any company in America.” The company said that it has reached 28 fair labor agreements since 2015, collectively covering nearly 123,000 employees. “This includes IBEW employees in California who ratified a very similar agreement to the one we are proposing to CWA,” the company added.

“Our employees in these contracts are very well compensated, and they will continue to be,” AT&T said. “We are not proposing to reduce the wages of any employees in these contracts, and we remain committed to providing great benefits.”

AT&T said that it has hired nearly 20,000 people into union-represented jobs in the U.S. in 2016. CWA represents a total of 150,000 workers at AT&T. 

CWA, for its part, contended that AT&T “has been violating the current terms and conditions of employment by forcing technicians on the West Coast to do work that is outside their areas of expertise and threatening their ability to deliver the best services for their customers.”

Importantly, CWA added that the situation could aid its work elsewhere with AT&T. “Nationwide, more than 21,000 AT&T wireless customer service and field workers are working under a contract extension that can be terminated with 72 hours’ notice as they continue to bargain with the company. In the last week, wireless workers have intensified their calls on AT&T executives to end to offshoring and outsourcing and have joined rallies and pickets coast to coast demanding good jobs that support their families and quality customer service,” CWA said.

The strike at AT&T is noteworthy considering rival Verizon suffered through a 45-day strike by about 40,000 workers represented by the CWA almost exactly a year ago, on the opposite side of the country. As part of the agreement that brought that strike to a close, Verizon agreed that no additional jobs would be outsourced overseas, while the number of calls routed to domestic call centers would increase. CWA said those moves would create 1,300 new call center jobs, with 850 in the Mid-Atlantic region and 450 in the Northeast.

The issue was a serious one for Verizon: in the quarter after the strike, Verizon said the strike largely drove its loss of 13,000 internet subscribers during the quarter.