Half of the AT&T Workers Who Went on Strike Got a New Contract

Aug 11, 2017

On a second try, some 17,000 AT&T workers who had gone out on strike ratified a new four-year contract this week.

The unionized employees, who work in California and Nevada in the carrier's traditional wired telephone and Internet businesses and its DirecTV unit, voted 58% to 42% to adopt the new agreement.

After over a year of negotiations, AT&T and its largest union, the Communications Workers of America, thought they had a deal back in June. But in a narrow and contentious vote, the first deal was rejected. The two sides brought in a federal mediator last month and reached a revised agreement that had better pay provisions for DirecTV workers and a slight reduction in allowable management monitoring of workers. The changes increased support for the contract enough to win the second ratification vote.

Even before rejecting the first deal, the workers had already shown they were taking an aggressive stand in the negotiations when they walked out in May on a weekend labor strike, the first at AT&T since 2012. And tough talks are ongoing with a second group of about 21,000 AT&T wireless workers in 36 states and Washington, D.C. who also went out in the strike.

AT&T praised the new deal, the 31st approved with its unionized workers since the start of 2015. "We strive in all of our labor negotiations to reach fair agreements that will allow us to continue to provide solid union careers with excellent wages and benefits, and we believe that’s the case with this agreement," the company said in a statement.

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The union confirmed the vote to approve the deal. "CWA has notified the Company of the results and will be working with AT&T on implementation," the union said in a short statement.

Like the original agreement, the revised contract included wage hike totaling 11% over four years and some job security promises, but also increased employees' healthcare contributions to cover insurance premiums to 29% by 2020.

Since last year's seven-week strike at Verizon (vz) led to workers there getting a better contract offer, labor tensions have been rising across the telecommunications industry. Increasing healthcare costs and job security against outsourcing have been among the most difficult issues. Workers at AT&T have been ramping up protest and picketing activity around the country, and in a nod to the Verizon workers' successful tactics, visited call center workers in the Dominican Republic hired by AT&T (t) for taking calls from U.S. customers.

The May strike by a total of nearly 40,000 workers forced AT&T to close hundreds of stores from Alaska to Michigan to Rhode Island. The wired unit employees who rejected the proposal had been working without a contract for over a year, while the wireless employees who are still negotiating have been working without a contract since February. AT&T is under pressure from Wall Street to cut costs as revenue has been shrinking lately on both sides of its phone business.

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