AT&T (NYSE: T) Southeast workers represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union have voted to authorize a strike days before the current contract expires on midnight on Saturday, Aug. 8.
In a 96 percent vote, union members voted to authorize CWA to call a strike if they can't reach an agreement with the telco.
CWA said in a blog post that while AT&T is a profitable company that posted $6.5 billion in profits in 2014, "it still demands givebacks" on issues related to job security and health care.
"The company has made a substandard health care proposal, is demanding givebacks in job security, wants to hire more temporary workers and continues to insist on excessive forced overtime," the CWA said in a post.
Marty Ricther, an AT&T spokesman, told FierceTelecom in an e-mail that while a strike authorization vote is not unexpected, the telco plans to work with the CWA to come to a new agreement.
"Our goal in these negotiations is to continue to provide our employees with high quality middle class careers with wages and benefits that are among the best in the country," said Richter in a statement. "Our employees in these contracts are very well compensated, and will continue to be. We are not proposing to reduce the wages of any employees in these contracts, and we remain committed to providing great benefits. A strike vote is not an unexpected step in negotiations of this sort and is often a part of the process. We remain confident that an agreement will be reached."
The contracts cover over 28,000 workers in nine states, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Simultaneously, CWA members at YP Holdings are bargaining separately on their contract, which also expires on Aug. 8.
In June, AT&T and the CWA began contract negotiations with employees in the Southeast territory. In a recent bargaining update, the CWA proposed to upgrade its Wage Scale 21 to Wage Scale 27.
Besides addressing wages, the union set forth proposals to improve work life in the consumer and finance environments by giving quota relief to employees on an excused or approved absence and strengthening safety language in the contract.
The Southeast region is just one location where AT&T and CWA had to negotiate a new labor contract. Earlier this year, AT&T negotiated tentative agreements covering nearly 17,000 wireline employees in the Midwest.
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This article was updated on Aug. 7 with additional information from AT&T.