CWA President: AT&T strike "a tactic we may yet use"

Speaking at the union's first ever e-meeting Thursday, CWA President Larry Cohen said a strike against AT&T remains a "tactic we may yet use" against the company. However, the union and its members need to "act strategically" and plan several moves ahead, while understanding the consequences of each move. 

Cohen's remarks were part of a 35-minute online video session conducted at 9 p.m. EST to outline where the union was at the bargaining table with AT&T, the reason why health care continues to be a roadblock between the two sides, and next steps the union needs to take to keep the pressure on AT&T.

CWA tried to get a national negotiating "table" set up with AT&T, but couldn't reach agreement with the firm as to what would be included. Instead, the union ended up negotiating with AT&T on a region-by-region basis.

Health care continues to be the major point of contention. Currently, the average out-of-pocket cost of health care for a union worker ranges from $1100 to $1500 dollars per year, said CWA executive vice president Annie Hill.  AT&T's first position had workers paying $3800 to $5700 per year, while a second proposal brought it down to $2800 to $4200 - still two to three times what workers currently pay. "This is totally unacceptable for an employer as profitable as AT&T," said Hill.

Cohen said two conflicting messages were presented around AT&T's first-quarter earnings report - one for workers, one for Wall Street. AT&T stressed the losses in wireline income and customers with a call to keep costs in line to its workers. A much rosier picture was given to investors, with solid growth and earnings, a dramatic slowing of landline losses, $3.13 billion in profits beating Wall Street expectation and an average landline revenue increase of about 2 percent.  

Rather than shift more health care costs to workers, Cohen and the union are calling for AT&T to "step up" to support national health care coverage for all Americans, a move that would supposedly save the company $600 million per year and increase shareholder value by more than $5 billion.

Union officials emphasized that next steps include building support from elected officials and engaging the public in the cause. "Management cares about customers," said Cohen. As a part of the educational effort, $3.6 million out of a $13 million defense fund has been allocated for public education, and if CWA does go out on strike, there's a $375 million relief fund available.

At the end, Cohen and Hill asked union members to sign the www.standupforworkers.com online petition and get 10 friends and co-workers to sign as well, subscribe to CWA text messaging alerts ("READY" to 69866), and plan to drum up support from elected officials, with the goal of getting letters of support from 200 members of Congress.

For more:
- Watch the 35 minute CWA "AT&T Unity E-Meeting 4/23/2009" video at www.cwaunion.tv. (Email address required).

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