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AT&T Deal With Electrical Workers Keeps Call Center Jobs Local

May 31, 2017, 6:15 PM UTC

AT&T said 5,000 unionized workers, mostly based in Illinois and northwest Indiana, approved a new five-year contract deal almost one month before their existing contract expired.

The deal, struck with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, marks the 29th straight agreement AT&T has made with its unions since the beginning of 2015. The labor peace has been marred only by the recent weekend strike by wireless workers nationwide and wired workers in California and Nevada who are trying to jump start stalled contract talks.

The new IBEW contract covering workers in AT&T’s wired business units includes annual wage increases totaling almost 14% over five years, a slight increase in health plan cost sharing, and an almost one-year moratorium on layoffs, among many other provisions.

Both sides said they reached a fair deal. “We strive in all of our labor negotiations to reach fair agreements that will allow us to continue to provide solid union-represented careers with excellent wages and benefits and we believe that was the case here,” the spokesman said.

“We believe that this agreement is a testament to the strong relationship the IBEW has with AT&T and represents a fair and mutually beneficial agreement in a challenging and changing industry,” union president Lonnie Stephenson said in a statement. 

Along with the approved deal, AT&T said it agreed to hire 1,000 people for union-represented jobs, including by opening a new call center in Chicago. That followed a pledge by AT&T in March to hire 3,000 people locally for jobs that have been previously outsourced, mostly overseas, from its wired telephone and Internet business in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.

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Job security for call center workers has been a top priority of telecommunications workers lately. That’s been one of the major sticking points for the almost 40,000 workers who have not come to an agreement and recently conducted the short strike. They are represented by the Communications Workers of America union.

To highlight the issue of call center jobs being outsourced to foreign countries, some of the AT&T workers traveled to the Dominican Republic in early May to meet with some of their counterparts there who now handle AT&T customer service calls.

AT&T (T) said it has hired more than 20,000 U.S. workers for union positions in the past year. But the union says AT&T shifted some 12,000 jobs from the 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.