Oakland AT&T landline workers left their jobs to protest on Friday… (CWA )
Thousands of AT&T workers in California and Nevada have walked off their jobs, the latest development in an acrimonious contract negotiation that has dragged on for months.
AT&T landline workers in hundreds of locations gathered to protest what they saw as AT&T's unfair contract demands, which they say include "massive healthcare cost-shifting to workers and their families," as well as reductions in AT&T worker retirement security, according to the Communications Workers of America, the union to which the employees belong.
The contract for 40,000 AT&T workers around the U.S. expired two months ago, and the company has since failed to reach an accord with the CWA. The CWA’s 9th district, which includes California and Nevada, covers 18,000 AT&T landline workers.
Libby Sayre, a CWA spokeswoman, said that the actions on Friday did not amount to a full-blown worker strike, and were only likely to last through the day. Although the contract negotiations have been "excruciatingly slow and time-consuming," she said, "we'd much rather get a contract without a strike."
Workers have been further incensed by remarks made in a memo from an AT&T executive, Betsy Farrell. In the memo, obtained by the Times, Farrell writes that when workers leave their jobs, "The company doesn't suffer. In fact, these actions help us financially when we don't pay you."
"It's a slap in the face," Sayre said. "These guys work very hard to provide quality customer service. They don't need a lot of insults and provocation."
AT&T spokesman Marty Richter declined to comment on the memo, but said that "we want our employees on the job," and that the company is continuing to seek a fair contract with the union.
Richter also noted that AT&T was prepared if workers did indeed leave their posts.
"We have systematically and thoroughly prepared for a potential work stoppage, and we have a substantial contingency workforce of well-trained managers and vendors in place," Richter said. "We will make every effort to deliver the great service to which our customers are accustomed."
In April, national CWA Vice President Ralph Maly addressed AT&T's annual shareholder meeting, noting that "despite AT&T’s continued success and profitability, despite its position as the nation’s biggest telecommunications company and the top-10 ranking among U.S. companies overall, members are being told they must sacrifice more."
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