Update: Strike of 20,000 AT&T workers in the South ends Wednesday

More than 20,000 AT&T employees are headed back to work on Wednesday after ending their strike against the telco. (Communications Workers of America)(Communication Workers of America)

Over 20,000 AT&T employees across nine Southern states will be back at work Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET after ending a strike that started over the weekend.

Details as to why the strike ended were scant, but FierceTelecom has reached out to AT&T and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the latter of which is the union representing the workers that went on strike. An email this morning from CWA spokesperson Beth Allen said more information about the status of negotiations would be forthcoming early Wednesday afternoon.

CWA announced a little after 1 p.m. ET that it has a reached a “handshake deal” with AT&T Southeast on a new collective bargaining agreement. More details are expected to follow, according to CWA.

The two sides engaged in many long hours of discussion Monday, according to a CWA web post. The union was “able to have some constructive dialogue with AT&T,” according to a statement posted on the CWA site.

“Yesterday (Monday), we all worked late into the night and we are prepared to settle negotiations,” the union statement said. “We plan to meet with the company again this evening. If the company is serious, we could settle the contract tonight.”

The CWA’s four-year contract with AT&T expired on August 3. 

"CWA members’ spirit and solidarity over the last four days showed the company that we would not back down until they bargained with us in good faith,” said CWA District 3 Vice President Richard Honeycutt, in a statement emailed to FierceTelecom. “This was a historic strike that showed the power that working people have when they join together.”

The AT&T workers, which were comprised of technicians, customer service representatives and installers, went on strike over weekend contending that the telco wasn't bargaining in good faith.

As the strike entered its fourth day on Tuesday, AT&T workers continued their picket lines across Florida, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi. 

The CWA filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against AT&T. CWA said AT&T wasn't bargaining in good faith, and that it wasn't sending negotiators to the bargaining table who have the authority to make decisions. “We entered these negotiations prepared to bargain in good faith with AT&T to address our members’ concerns and to work together to find solutions,” said CWA District 3 Vice President Richard Honeycutt, in a statement prior to the strike ending. “Our talks have stalled because it has become clear that AT&T has not sent negotiators who have the power to make decisions so we can move forward toward a new contract.”

Not surprisingly, AT&T disagreed with the CWA's characterization of the bargaining issues related to the strike, and said it was prepared for the strike. While AT&T doesn't anticipate any problems maintaining its wireline services, the absence of techs could cause problems for new installs if there are not enough workers to go around. With service providers automating their services, customer service and applications, striking workers run the risk of not having jobs down the road.

“We’re prepared for a strike and will continue working hard to serve our customers," said AT&T spokesperson Jim Kimberly in an email Tuesday to FierceTelecom. "We strongly disagree with the union's claims of unfair labor practices. Our bargaining team is negotiating this contract with CWA leaders in the same way we have successfully done with dozens of other CWA contracts over the years. We listen, engage in substantive discussions and share proposals back and forth until we reach agreement.

“That’s why we’re surprised and disappointed that union leaders would call for a strike at this point in the negotiations, particularly when we’re offering terms that would help our employees—some of whom average from $121,000 to $134,000 in total compensation—be even better off."

Kimberly said that AT&T has reached 20 "fair" agreements since 2017 covering more than 89,000 employees. The Southeast contract covers fewer than 8% of AT&T's employees.

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The strike had garnered messages of support from Democratic presidential candidates including Senator Bernie Sanders, who rallied with union workers in Louisville, Kentucky, and tweets by former vice president Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

CWA previously said that additional unfair labor practice charges have been filed against AT&T in Florida for illegally disciplining members for wearing union memorabilia and for participating in activities that are protected under the National Labor Relations Act. CWA members in South Florida initiated a strike over the company’s unfair labor practices on August 22.