AT&T denies sick time pay to older Minnesota employees

MINNEAPOLIS (PAI and Workday Minnesota) – In a direct contrast to the national movement for paid sick leave and family leave benefits, AT&T is defying Minnesota law by denying sick leave to its longest-serving workers.

That outrage brought a large crowd, led by more than 50 members of the Communications Workers (CWA), to a mass protest outside the corporation’s tower in downtown Minneapolis on Nov. 12.

More than 10 senior-tenured AT&T employees have been denied compensation for sick time used to care for relatives, including spouses and parents, a benefit now mandated by Minnesota law.

“It’s time for AT&T to stop avoiding its legal obligations to its longtime employees, people who have helped build this company over decades,” said Susan Anderson, a 34-year AT&T employee who has been denied payment of sick leave benefits while caring for her husband as he was undergoing treatments for prostate cancer. “AT&T has refused to pay me for the time they owe, and that’s wrong.”

In Aug. 2013, the Minnesota legislature enacted a new statute, strongly pushed by organized labor, women workers and their organizations, extending personal sick leave benefits so employees with these benefits could use their paid time off to care for an extended array of relatives, including a sibling, parent, spouse or parent-in-law. The law allows for no more than 160 hours in any 12-month period, with employers also allowed to offer additional time at their own choosing.

In June 2014, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry issued a letter to AT&T instructing the corporation to comply with the new state law. Since then, AT&T has ignored the order and continued denying benefits to their most senior employees. (story continues after video)

As a result, many employees who worked with AT&T for over 25 years were denied pay the law allows for while caring for ill or injured relatives, or were forced to use vacation time or non-paid time to provide care. Other long-time employees struggle to find family or friends to provide the care rather than having to fight with AT&T management over compensation.

Deb Derke of Bloomington used earned sick leave to care for her husband after he suffered a heart attack and a stroke, but has yet to be paid for this time, as law stipulates.

“My husband is paralyzed and in a wheelchair most of the time. I had to take a lot of time off to care for him, while worrying about keeping my income coming in and my family cared for. Minnesota state law says I should be compensated for this, and the Minnesota Department of Labor has directed AT&T to comply but so far, they haven’t,” she said.

Derke said the law went into effect in August 2013 but AT&T did not even acknowledge it until January 2014. And for the past 11 months, AT&T has refused to comply with the law where its senior employees are concerned, refusing compensation for time used.

Don Waalen-Radzevicius of Minneapolis, who has worked with AT&T for over 28 years, said AT&T’s non-compliance is hurting far more than those employees who have tried to collect the sick leave compensation they have earned and used.

“There are at least 100 employees who each have 25 or more years of service to AT&T. When seeing the new standards showing sick leave benefits for care of relatives being ‘non-applicable’ to those in the 25-year bracket, many have been using up vacation time instead. This is a massive problem and AT&T needs to take corrective action immediately,” he said.

Photo: Screenshot from video (above)