AT&T faces criticism on CWA, IBEW contracts, network neglect claims in California, Nevada

CWA District 9 demonstrates on Feb. 23
Image: CWA

AT&T is facing criticism from a group of city officials throughout California and Nevada who claim the telco is not living up to its broadband expansion promises while reducing its workforce.

In a letter sent to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and EVP of Labor Relations Mark Royse Tuesday, the group called out how the company has reduced its employee base in both states.

Specifically, the group cites how AT&T has cut over 2,500 employees in California, affecting communities from San Diego to Sacramento.

RELATED: CWA-represented AT&T workers ramp up pressure in contract negotiation process

In Bakersfield and Anaheim, California, where call centers have been shut down and jobs sent overseas, the group said the “corporate changes hurt local economies and have drained communities of good-paying jobs that are increasingly hard to find.”

“AT&T made more than $16 billion in profits last year, paid out $46 million to its top executives and spent billions on costly mergers, but it’s attempting to move good quality jobs out of California and Nevada,” the letter said.

Elected officials throughout California and Nevada signed the letter, including: Reno Mayor Hillary Schiev, Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas, Los Angeles City Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Curren D. Price, State Sens. Jim Beall and Josh Newman, State Assemblymember Tom Daly, and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin. 

The timing of the letter comes as the CWA union is continuing the labor contract negotiation process.

As part of that bargaining process, 17,000 AT&T customer service workers and technicians in California and Nevada are bargaining with the company for a new contract and have been working without a contract for nearly a year.

CWA recently told Fortune that AT&T and the union have not been able to come to terms over key issues such as outsourcing of call center jobs overseas, salary, healthcare costs.

Network neglect

Union negotiations are only one of the issues that the group of city leaders raise in their letter. The group also claims that AT&T has not been making efforts to expand broadband access and perform necessary upkeep on its telephone service network, particularly in rural areas.

“All too many Californians and Nevadans have waited far too long for AT&T to build the high-speed broadband infrastructure promised to them,” the letter said. “Not only is AT&T failing to provide access to 21st century high-speed connections to many communities, but it is also not maintaining the copper lines that are vital to landline phone access, 911 and emergency services and basic internet service.”

In December, CWA members, community leaders, and customers joined in support of new California PUC regulations that require telephone companies provide more real-time and comprehensive reporting on service issues in remote and rural areas in California.

As part of the CPUC’s 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.

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.

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

AT&T defends record

AT&T, not surprisingly, disagrees with the unions and the city leaders from California and Nevada.

The service provider said that it has made the necessary investments to support broadband expansion and network maintenance in California.

“Our first priority is serving our customers and to that end we have invested more than $7.25 billion in our California wireless and wired networks in the past three years,” said Marty Richter, an AT&T spokesman in an e-mail to FierceTelecom. “Nationally, for the fifth year in a row, we were singled last year out as the largest capital investor in the U.S.”

As for the union labor negotiations, AT&T said it is committed to reaching a fair contract similar to the ones it has garnered with 28 other bargaining units in its footprint. These agreements, which include three the telco already signed this year, cover over 20,000 employees.

“We’re not proposing to cut anyone’s pay, or take away their benefits,” Richter said.

Richter said that AT&T has built a large union-based workforce that it plans to expand throughout 2017.

“We hired nearly 3,300 people last year alone in California, of which over 2,700 were union-represented employees, and we’re looking to hire more union workers in California this year,” Richter said.