CHICAGO – While announcing a $3.2 billion quarterly profit April 22, AT&T officials remained silent about their intransigence in ongoing contract negotiations with the Communications Workers of America union that involve 100,000 workers in the company’s wireline unit. They have been working without a contract since April 4.
The company said the bulk of its profits are due to its wireless and broadband operations. CWA President Larry Cohen said, in a phone interview, however, that, “Wireless and broadband cannot exist without wireline. Building and maintaining the network are a critical part of the company’s business plan. It’s the CWA members at AT&T who keep the network running.”
Workers are keeping open their option to strike and voted overwhelmingly, earlier this month, to authorize a strike if a fair contract isn’t reached.
The company claims that any deal would have to shift much more of the costs of health care onto the shoulders of the workers. The union says the company proposals would result in many workers seeing a doubling or tripling of their healthcare costs. “AT&T should pursue national health care coverage if it wants to cut its health care costs,” Cohen said.
Pat Yearly, who lives on Chicago’s South Side, worked for AT&T for 35 years before he retired. “After all their money making they want to cut the pay of their loyal workers by making them pay more for health care. I’m going to call that rat CEO direct. I have a bad arm and a bad leg because of all that I put into that company. I’d like to see Randall (the company’s CEO) climb those poles and crawl around in those holes.”
A technician who had just opened an AT&T junction box on the corner of Coles and E72nd St., April 23, told the World, “Working outside like this, we are exposed to the weather all the time. They’re not cutting management’s health benefits and they sit inside all the time. If anything, that’s reason that we should get better, not worse benefits.
“When we have major problems like a slice in a main line you could be working 30 hours straight in a nasty-assed man hole. And you know where the duty manager is? He’s either in a truck looking at us with the heater on, staying warm and cozy, or he’s at home sleeping in bed.”
AT&T is the seventh largest company in the world. It posted $12.9 billion in profits last year.
Candice Johnson, an official spokesperson for the CWA, said it would be an opportunity lost if the company did not work together with the union for health care reform. “This is a much better approach that the short sighted one of shifting the cost to the workers,” she said. “National health coverage will save AT&T some $600 million and will increase shareholder value by $5 billion.”
The CWA represents 80,000 AT&T workers in addition to the 100,000 AT&T wireline workers. Altogether, the union represents 700,000 workers in communications, media, airlines, manufacturing, public service and health care.