Some of AT&T’s unionized workers engaged in tough negotiations with the company are borrowing a tactic that helped Verizon workers get a better contract last year.
To highlight the issue of call center jobs being outsourced to foreign countries, AT&T workers in the Communications Workers of America union traveled to the Dominican Republic this week to meet with some of their counterparts there who now handle AT&T customer service calls. AT&T is currently engaged in two tough negotiations with some 38,000 CWA workers in its wireless and wired businesses whose contracts have expired.
“AT&T’s offshoring practices are the ultimate ‘lose-lose’ scenario for everyone involved,” Tom Runnion, vice president of the CWA’s District 9, said in a statement. U.S. workers lose jobs, foreign workers are poorly paid and customers get worse service, he charged.
AT&T said it has hired more than 20,000 U.S. workers for union positions in the past year alone. “We provide more good-paying full-time U.S. union jobs than any company in America, and the Communications Workers of America and their members have benefitted from that greatly,” a spokesman said. The company recently announced it would open a new call center in Chicago, the spokesman added.
The two contentious contract talks—with 21,000 wireless workers and 17,000 phone and Internet workers—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 in April 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 southern workers deal, AT&T agreed to hire 3,000 people locally for jobs that had been outsourced, mostly overseas.
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But labor relations have been getting increasingly tense in the telecommunications industry since last year’s strike by Verizon workers resulted in higher pay and better job security than the company was initially offering.
Last May, Verizon (VZ) workers in the CWA, who were already on strike, met call center workers in the Philippines to draw attention to outsourcing. The visit exploded into an armed confrontation with Verizon security guards, an escalation that helped convince then-Secretary of Labor Tom Perez to get involved in mediating a deal. Ultimately, Verizon agreed to hire 1,400 more U.S.-based workers, though it has still been closing call centers not covered by that contract.
In a report that the CWA issued on Thursday in conjunction with the visit, the union charged that AT&T (T) had shifted some 12,000 jobs from U.S. to overseas call centers since 2011. Jobs moved to Colombia, El Salvador, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic among other countries pay as little $1.60 per hour, the union said.
(Update: This story was updated at noon on May 4 to add comments from AT&T.)