Thousands of AT&T Inc. 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 land-line workers in hundreds of locations protested AT&T's contract demands, which they said included "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.
That contract for 40,000 AT&T workers around the U.S. expired two months ago, and the company and the CWA have failed to reach a new accord. The CWA's ninth district, which includes California and Nevada, covers 18,000 AT&T technicians who install and repair telephone lines.
Workers were further incensed by remarks made in a memo from an AT&T executive, Betsy Farrell. In the memo, obtained by The Times, Farrell said that when workers walk off 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," said Libby Sayre, a CWA spokeswoman. "These guys work very hard to provide quality customer service; they don't need a lot of insults and provocation."
Sayre said the actions Friday did not amount to a full-blown worker strike and were likely to last only 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."
AT&T spokesman Marty Richter declined to comment on the memo. He did say that "we want our employees on the job" and that the company is continuing to seek a fair contract with the union, adding: "These employees are very well-compensated and have great benefits, and that will continue to be the case."
Richter also said 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."
AT&T service center worker Art Martinez, 38, went into work at 8:30 a.m. Friday and got the memo from union leaders at 9:30 to walk out. Though he was surprised to get the order, he said, he left his desk and joined a group of picketers.
"This was us saying, 'AT&T ... you're not going to take our benefits away,'" he said.
In April, national CWA Vice President Ralph Maly addressed AT&T's annual shareholder meeting, saying 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."
Times staff writer Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.