Approximately 17,000 unionized employees in AT&T’s traditional phone business in California and Nevada went back on the job on Thursday after a one-day walk out to protest changing work requirements.
The employees, who mostly work as technicians and call center staff, called a grievance strike in Wednesday after they said the company had forced them to take on new work assignments without collective bargaining. The Communications Workers of America union that represents the workers on Thursday said AT&T had agreed to end the practice.
“We went on strike to demonstrate to the country that we will not do more work for less pay, especially when it puts us in a position not to deliver the best possible service,” Robert Longer, an AT&T technician in Sacramento, said in a statement released by the union.
AT&T maintained it had not done anything wrong but was glad to settle the dispute. “We honor all of our agreements and the settlement reached clarified some work processes on assignments for a group of technicians,” a spokesman said.
The giant telecommunications carrier has long had positive relations with its union workers, but the tense situation arose after a contract covering the western phone, broadband and cable group expired almost a year ago. There has been little progress in negotiations over sticking points like the outsourcing of call center jobs overseas, stagnant pay, and rising health care costs. Talks are continuing, a spokesman for AT&T said, along with negotiations for another 21,000 workers in the company’s mobile unit.
Unlike competitor Verizon, which was hit with a bitter seven-week strike last year, AT&T has seen a lengthy period of constructive dealings with the CWA and other unions. Since the start of 2015, AT&T has completed 28 straight deals with its unions, covering 123,000 workers. The last strike at the company was in 2012, and it lasted for just two days.
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AT&T officials say the company has offered landline workers in the latest negotiations annual wage and pension benefit increases and healthcare plans similar to what employees across the country have received in other contracts. Along with the rest of the telecom industry, AT&T is under pressure by Wall Street to cut costs amid slowing sales for wired and wireless phone service. AT&T’s stock has lost 2% so far this year versus a 5% gain in the S&P 500 Index, amid concerns about wireless price wars, slowing revenue growth and higher interest rates.
Like the Verizon (VZ) workers who went out on strike, AT&T’s (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.
Outsourcing jobs has become a higher profile issue since the election of President Donald Trump. And that’s after a confrontation between Verizon union workers and security guards for the company near a call center in the Philippines during last year’s strike ended up attracting Obama administration intervention. Union organizers also have been meeting to discuss how best to slow the move by the carriers to shift jobs either overseas or to non-union, third-party retail chains.