Telecoms Take Hard Line on Union Contract Talks

By Seth Sandronsky

Communications Workers of America

Communications Workers of America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Forty three thousand AT&T wireline employees, members of  Communications Workers of America, could be striking this summer if AT&T holds to its position that certain workers must take pay cuts and decreased health and retirement benefits.

The workers’ four CWA-AT&T contracts in the East, Midwest and West expired on April 7. Bargaining continues.

The economic gap is wide and speaks to the gulf between the 99% and top 1%. AT&T seeks changes to wages, costs for health care and pensions and workplace rules, according to Sara Steffens, a CWA staffer with District 9. Leaving one to conclude that lower-paid workers will likely bear the brunt of cuts, AT&T spokesperson Marty Richter said, “We’re committed to working together with the union to bargain a contract that will allow us to continue to provide and protect high quality middle-class careers for our employees.”

The company is not proposing to cut the wages of call center representatives or network technicians, according to Richter. While declining to state the specifics of AT&T’s wage proposals, it appears that the company is seeking pay cuts for other CWA workers under new, lower-cost contracts. AT&T also seeks to change the benefits of employees covered under current CWA contracts. One benefit of no small matter is health care insurance. According to Richter, AT&T employees under CWA contracts have health-care costs “in the lowest one percent of surveyed companies.”

Richter, asked to comment on why AT&T, with its first-quarter 2012 consolidated revenues up nearly two percent from 2011’s first quarter, due in large measure to sales of smart phones with data plan subscriptions, wants to place CWA workers under new, lower-cost  contracts, replied that the driving force is a reduced business demand for wireline services.

This slump has spurred a 2.5% drop in wireline revenues in 2011 versus 2010. In other words, AT&T’s wireline pie is smaller, thus workers’ slices must shrink. But wait. AT&T’s Q1 2012 earnings news release states: “Wireline business year-over-year revenue comparisons continue to improve. Wireline consumer revenues up 1.0 percent versus the year-earlier period; seventh consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth.”

According to its recent quarterly report, AT&T’s DSL, television-voice U-Verse service runs on the company’s wireline network. Jeff Kagan is a telecommunications analyst. “When a company wants to encourage investment they tell one part of the story,” he said. “When they want concessions from unions they can tell another part of the same story.” In the meantime, AT&T and CWA negotiators continue to meet and bargain.

Asked to comment on parallels between CWA East’s 13-day strike against Verizon to protest the proposed contract take-backs in summer 2011 and CWA’s conflict with AT&T now, Steffens said: “It’s two different (company) contracts, two different bargaining tables,” but the companies’ conflicts with the CWA are part of a larger over-all pattern of corporate America doing well then crying poor and trying to deny workers their share of the firms’ growth.

AT&T reported first-quarter 2012 consolidated revenues of $31.8 billion. Verizon reported consolidated revenues of $28.2 billion for the same quarter this year. CEOs for both telecoms are living larger than 2011’s average pay for a CEO at S&P 500 Index Companies of $12,935,475, according to an AFL-CIO database.

AT&T CEO and President Randall L. Stephenson had a total compensation of $22,018,334 in 2011, or 647 times an average worker’s annual pay of $34,053 last year. Over at Verizon, CEO and Chairman Lowell C. McAdam’s total compensation was $23,120,499 in 2011, 679 times bigger than an average worker’s pay. The AFL-CIO puts this economic inequality in context: “the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay between CEOs of the S&P 500 Index companies and US workers widened to 380 times in 2011 from 343 times in 2010.”

Thirty-two years ago the average CEO for a big company earned a salary 42 times what an average worker received. While Verizon East workers with CWA walked off the job for 13 days In summer 2011, the CWA’s battle with AT&T since April 7 has yet to take things to that level.or example, away from the bargaining table, CWA members have taken part in mobilization actions.

To let AT&T management know that they are serious about preventing the company from reducing employees’ share of the company’s growth, CWA members wore stickers with double entendre slogans that read “where’s the fairness (WTF)” on April 24. AT&T managers sent home hundreds of premises technicians who refused to remove the stickers, according to Libby Sayre, a CWA District 9 organizer.

Asked for future plans for such actions, she declined specifics. “Mobilization works best when it catches management off guard and unprepared,” Sayre said. “So discussing future mobilization activities hurts our members’ effort to reach a fair settlement.”

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2012 http://www.populist.com.  posted with permission of author. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com.

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