Some 21,000 workers in AT&T's wireless business threatened to go on strike for two days over the weekend if they do not reach a deal on a new contract by Friday afternoon.
The workers, spread across 36 states, have been working without a contract since February and notified AT&T on April 28 that they may go on strike at any time. The Communications Workers of America union, which represents the AT&T wireless workers, said it also filed an unfair labor practice complaint with federal regulators over the company's alleged refusal to turn over information related to bargaining.
"Going on strike is a decision that is not made lightly," the CWA said in a message distributed to the workers. "Your bargaining team has worked countless hours to negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement, but this company is refusing to budge on the issues that matter the most to us."
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The union said it wanted a bigger wage increase than the 2% annual raise that AT&T offered, no increase in worker health care contributions, and tighter job security protections, among other things.
AT&T said it would continue to negotiate. "We're continuing to bargain with the union and believe a fair agreement can be reached," the company said in a statement. "We’re prepared for a possible strike. If it happens, we will continue working hard to serve our customers."
With tensions rising with the wireless workers, AT&T is also involved in another tough ongoing negotiation covering about 17,000 workers in AT&T’s wired telephone, cable, and Internet business in California and Nevada. The workers went out on a one-day grievance strike last month and have been holding large protest rallies.
The two contentious fights stand in stark contrast to the carrier’s long run of labor peace. AT&T hasn’t suffered a labor strike since 2012, and that lasted only two days. And a recent four-year contract ratified this month by 20,000 workers in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas marked the 28th straight deal approved by AT&T and its unionized workers since the start of 2015. As part of the recent deal with workers in the South, AT&T (t) agreed to hire 3,000 people locally for jobs that had been outsourced, mostly overseas.
But labor relations have been getting increasingly tense in the telecommunications industry since last year’s strike by Verizon (vz) workers that resulted in higher pay and better job security than the company was initially offering.
AT&T, which is under pressure from Wall Street to cut costs amid slowing growth in its wired and wireless telephone operations, has previously said that it is not seeking to cut employee pay or take away benefits.