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AT&T Strikers Return to Work After Weekend Walkout Forced Store Closings

May 22, 2017, 8:49 PM UTC

AT&T wireless workers and thousands of others at the company returned to work on Monday after a weekend strike aimed at jump starting contract talks.

The Communications Workers of America union, which represents the 21,000 wireless workers who walked out in 36 states and Washington, D.C., said the labor action forced AT&T to close hundreds of stores from Alaska to Michigan to Rhode Island. The wireless employees have been working without a contract since February.

They were joined on the picket lines by about 17,000 striking workers in AT&T’s traditional wireline telephone and Internet business in Nevada and California who have been working without a contract for over a year. Additional workers in the wireline business in Connecticut and the DirecTV unit in California also went out on strike.

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AT&T said only a small number of its stores were affected but declined to release any numbers. “We remained open for business,” a spokesman said. “We had prepared, and we worked hard to continue to serve our customers.”

Union members posted pictures on Twitter and Facebook of picketing in front of dozens of closed stores over the weekend. They were joined by members of other unions, such as the Teamsters and AFL-CIO, along with local and state politicians, including Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and California State Democratic Party chairman Eric Bauman.

Contract talks are stuck on issues of wage increases, charges for healthcare premiums, job security against outsourcing, and other issues. Sales commissions are a key concern for workers in AT&T’s wireless stores, as well.

AT&T says it has already made a “generous” offer. The situation is “pretty much where we were before this started,” a spokesman said.

Even with some lost sales at closed AT&T stores, the limited strike won’t have the same impact on AT&T’s business that last year’s bitter, seven-week walk out by 36,500 Verizon workers had on that company’s financial results. Verizon’s second quarter profit per share last year was reduced by 5 cents to 7 cents as the company lost some business and had to pay for replacement workers.

While Verizon has had a long history of difficult labor relations, AT&T (T) has generally good relations with its unionized workforce until recently. Unlike in the Verizon (VZ) strike, the CWA set a firm end to Friday’s walk out on Monday. That could be a signal that despite the tough negotiations so far, the two sides are less divided than Verizon and its workers were last year.

AT&T hadn’t previously suffered a labor strike since 2012, and that lasted only two days.