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Why Another 21,000 AT&T Workers May Vote for a Strike

AT T - Most Admired 2016AT T - Most Admired 2016

Another 21,000 AT&T workers are expected to authorize a strike in votes this week intended as a show of seriousness at the start of negotiations over a new contract. The current contract covering the wireless retail, call center, and technical workers in 36 states expires on February 11.

The expected vote follows a similar move by about 17,000 workers last month in AT&T’s traditional wired phone business in Nevada and California, who have been working without a contract since April.

“AT&T is underestimating their workers’ anger, frustration, and commitment to winning a fair contract,” Dennis Trainer, vice president for district 1 of the AT&T workers’ union, the Communications Workers of America, said in a statement.

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But despite the strike authorization votes—not uncommon bargaining tactics in labor talks—AT&T said it remained committed to finding common ground. Unlike some of its peers, AT&T has had a long run of labor peace with its workers and their main union, the Communications Workers of America. While Verizon saw some 40,000 workers go out on strike for seven weeks last year, AT&T last strike was almost five years ago and lasted only two days.

“A strike vote is not an unexpected step in negotiations of this sort and is often a part of the process,” an AT&T spokesman said. “We’re continuing to bargain with the union and we’re committed to reaching a fair agreement that will allow us to continue to provide solid union-represented careers with excellent wages and benefits.”

AT&T has proposed eliminating pension benefits for new hires, reducing the number of sick days, and paying one-third of the cost of health care insurance premiums, the CWA said. AT&T declined to comment on its specific proposals, but a spokesman said the company was not seeking to cut employee pay or take away benefits.

Like the Verizon (VZ) workers who went out on strike, the AT&T (T) workers have also highlighted their employer’s outsourcing of call center jobs outside of the country. They say the carrier has moved 8,000 call center jobs since 2011 to countries including the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and the Philippines. Halting the offshoring of call center jobs was also the focus of a letter from seven Democratic senators to President Donald Trump last week.

For more on the Verizon strike last year, watch:

In December, AT&T extended its run of successful labor negotiations, announcing agreement on a new contract to give raises to 2,000 workers at five DirecTV call centers that the company acquired last year. That marked 25 consecutive deals covering 102,000 workers ratified in 2015 and 2016. One contract deal was rejected last year, signaling that workers might be getting more confrontational, but a modified deal was quickly negotiated and approved weeks later.

Still, like much of the rest of the telecom industry, AT&T is under pressure by Wall Street to cut costs amid slowing sales for its wired and wireless phone service.