AT&T and the primary union representing its employees – the Communications Workers of America – finally crossed the finish line in their marathon negotiations in California and Nevada. The rank and file voted to approve the latest deal by a 58% to 42% margin. That comes after the first deal they struck was rejected by the membership in July, on a 53% to 47% vote.
Like the original agreement, the revised contract included wage hike totaling 11% over four years and some job security promises, but also increased employees’ healthcare contributions to cover insurance premiums to 29% by 2020.
Since last year’s seven-week strike at Verizon (VZ, +0.08%) led to workers there getting a better contract offer, labor tensions have been rising across the telecommunications industry. Increasing healthcare costs and job security against outsourcing have been among the most difficult issues.
It was a long and difficult process, with the union and AT&T going 16 months without a contract. At one point in May, CWA members walked off the job for three days to protest the slow pace of talks. Wireless employees also joined that mini-strike, but they’re not covered by the agreement that was ratified this week – that only takes in landline and DirecTv workers. Negotiations on a contract for the wireless workforce continue.
It’s the first time that employees who came in to AT&T via the DirecTv acquisition have been covered by the contract. Bringing them in under the CWA/AT&T umbrella was just one of the challenges. Over the years, AT&T and CWA have built up a structure that treats different groups of employees differently, even ones that do similar, or in some cases largely identical, jobs. Those splits within the workforce were one of the major factors behind the rejection of the first contract in July.
It’s a warning shot, not a full on strike, but even so thousands of AT&T employees left work yesterday and don’t plan to come back until Monday. According to the Los Angeles Times, 17,000 members of the Communications Workers of America, which is the primary union representing AT&T employees, walked off the job in California and Nevada, where they’ve been working without a contract for 13 months.
The strike includes about 2,000 technicians who work in California and Nevada installing and repairing equipment for the satellite television service DirecTV. The union said the walkout marked the first time that AT&T wireless workers in 36 states have gone on strike, which they said could result in some closed retail stores this weekend. Only company-owned stores, not so-called authorized retailers, would be affected…
The two sides have been laboring over a new agreements to replace ones that expired in April 2016 and earlier this year. Workers have complained that AT&T has cut sick leave and disability benefits and asked them to to pay more for their healthcare. Union members also have been worried about the stability of their jobs, contending that AT&T has cut more than 10,000 call center workers since 2011 and moved those jobs to countries with cheaper labor.
The three-day mini-strike came as frustration grew over contract talks that don’t seem to be going anywhere. It follows a one-day strike here in California in March, the result of a dispute over work rules, which was quickly ironed out.
But so long as the big questions remain unresolved, the threat of a indefinite strike, like the 45-day walkout against Verizon last year, remains.
For many years, [Verizon’s Pennsylvania subsidiary] has intentionally failed to maintain its physical plant in non-FiOS areas of the Commonwealth. The state of deterioration is now so advanced that poles are literally falling over, cables are sagging to the ground, animals and insects are infesting broken wiring cabinets…
[Verizon] is failing to provide safe facilities by refusing to 1) replace damaged, bent, and broken poles; 2) repair or replace damaged cross-connect boxes and remote terminals; 3) repair or replace damaged cable; and 4) properly control falling trees and vegetation near its facilities.
But that doesn’t mean that Verizon is giving up on wired networks completely. In fact, it’s expanding its fiber footprint, announcing plans to purchase XO Communications, a major independent fiber operator that offers both long haul and metro services.
Verizon’s strategy in California, and elsewhere, appears to be similar to AT&T’s: stop investing in maintaining or upgrading marginal copper networks, or dump them altogether, and focus on providing fiber to high density, and lucrative, commercial areas and high potential residences, as well as mobile services.
Initially, CWA warned the California Public Utilities Commission of “the potential harm to thousands of its members in California” and lodged a protest against approval of the sale, saying “this transaction will impact the economic health of millions of households, businesses, schools, health care facilities, government agencies, and other institutions in California”.
But now that the contractual issues have been resolved, those overheated concerns have evaporated. [CWA is telling the CPUC]() that it “supports the proposed acquisition and believes approval of this transaction is in the public and employees’ interest”.
The message was delivered in person to commissioner Catherine Sandoval and a CPUC administrative law judge at a hearing in Santa Clara on Monday. Frontier executives were there, too. The atmosphere was genuinely friendly: the pro forma good words spoken during the hearing were followed up by collegial conversations afterwards.
It’s easy to be cynical about CWA’s Damascene conversion, but there seems to be substance in what, to all appearances, is a good working relationship with Frontier. That stands in stark contrast to the escalation war of words between Verizon and the union as the clock ticks down on contract negotiations on the east coast.