Lawmakers demand AT&T end call center cuts, settle with Communications Workers
LM Otero | AP

WASHINGTON – With 14,000 telecom workers ever closer to being forced to strike, groups of House and Senate Democrats are demanding Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, both end call center cuts and settle with Communications Workers of America (CWA), who represent the employees at AT&T Midwest and Legacy T, two of the giant firm’s subsidiaries.

Key issues which may force CWA members to walk are the two companies’ continued outsourcing of U.S. jobs and the raises Stephenson promised after the telecom enthusiastically supported – and benefited from –the Trump-GOP tax cut for corporations and the rich.

Stephenson had promised $1,000 each. CWA, citing GOP President Donald Trump’s prior claims, said each worker should get $4,000 immediately.

Whether Stephenson will pay attention is unknown. The CWA Executive Board previously authorized union leaders to call a strike, if necessary. The firm’s contracts with both subsidiaries expired in April.

The five Democratic senators – Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Joe Donnelly of Indiana – reminded Stephenson of his job-creation promise after Congress OKd the tax cut on party line votes last year. Instead, Stephenson’s still cutting call center jobs, particularly in the Midwest, they said.

“American workers, including AT&T employees in our states, fear their jobs being offshored,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to assuage those fears by making explicit contract guarantees to increase the number of call center jobs in the U.S.”

Meanwhile, 23 House Democrats, led by Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Mark Pocan of Wisconsin – a Painters union member – and Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan, demanded an overall settlement and that AT&T live up to its post-tax cut overall jobs promise.

“We understand controversy has arisen” during bargaining between Dallas-based AT&T, its two subsidiaries and CWA about whether the tax cut, “though its reductions were focused on corporations and wealthy individuals, was intended to result in job growth, wage increases for workers and an end to offshoring.”

Those lawmakers noted Stephenson predicted AT&T would gain $1 billion from the tax cut, adding he promised last Nov. 8 it would create 7,000 new jobs system-wide as a result. They also quoted Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., as saying the tax cut would bring home and/or retain 36,000 jobs in Pennsylvania alone.

CWA not only has raised those questions at the bargaining table. With no reply to its queries to Stephenson about his prior promises of more U.S. jobs and a pay hike, it filed a labor law-breaking (unfair labor practices) complaint against the firm with regional offices of the National Labor Relations Board.

“However, recent reports regarding contract negotiations suggest” AT&T is breaking Stephenson’s promises, their letter added.

“As we consider future taxing and spending priorities…we ask if you would update us on the status of your plans to invest in the United States, as well as other seen and unseen impacts the tax law has had on your business priorities,” the group said. They want to hear from Stephenson by July 23.

“The time is now for AT&T to follow through on its tax bill promises to create good, family-supporting U.S. jobs and invest in workers,” said CWA District 4 Vice President Linda Hinton, whose area covers the AT&T Midwest states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio.

“While AT&T stonewalls workers at the bargaining table over offshoring and outsourcing, the company is pulling in billions in profits from the tax bills. AT&T workers will not give up on their fight against layoffs, cuts, and closures.” As evidence, CWA cited an investigation revealing AT&T closed 44 call centers and cut 16,000 jobs in the area, cutting its workforce in half.

The call center closures not only left workers without jobs, but the shift to low-wage contractors overseas hurt the quality of AT&T’s service and damages the credibility of its brand, the union adds.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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