AT&T Union Votes to Strike, Invoking Trump Jobs PledgeBy
CWA negotiating on behalf of 21,000 employees nationwide
AT&T confident deal will be reached, calls strike vote routine
AT&T Inc.’s wireless workers moved closer toward striking at the nation’s second-largest carrier, citing a campaign pledge by President Donald Trump to keep U.S. jobs from being outsourced to other countries.
The Communications Workers of America union, which is negotiating on behalf of about 21,000 AT&T wireless employees nationwide, voted to authorize a work stoppage with 93 percent in favor, according to spokeswoman Candice Johnson. In a statement, AT&T said it’s confident an agreement will be reached.
The union’s main point of contention is job security, and Johnson said the CWA is negotiating to ensure workers in AT&T’s U.S. call centers aren’t replaced by staff overseas. With negotiations ongoing, the union will hold rallies in 35 cities ahead of a Saturday expiration date of its current contract, she said.
“It seems someone should be pointing out that they are selling service in the U.S. and shifting work to places like India,” Johnson said. “President Trump made a lot of promises on the campaign trail, and we are going to hold him to it.”
The shares were little changed at $41.29 at 11:17 a.m. in New York Thursday.
What began before Trump’s inauguration, with attempts to cajole corporations like Toyota Motor Corp. into keeping jobs in the U.S. with critical tweets, is now escalating into a crucial test for business leaders. A strike of AT&T’s wireless workers would come at an especially sensitive time for the company, which is trying to curry favor in Washington to transform itself into a media powerhouse with the $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner Inc. While the combination needs regulatory approval, it has been one of the few deals that the president has publicly opposed.
The CWA often extends deadlines and union employees remain on the job as long as negotiations make process in the final hours, so the situation might not result in a work stoppage. The rhetoric about talks with their employer, always heated, has taken on a new tinge under Trump, who has championed the cause of keeping jobs in the U.S.
“A strike vote is a routine, not unexpected step in negotiations of this sort and is often a part of the process. We’re continuing to bargain with the union,” said Marty Richter, an AT&T spokesman. “We’re committed to reaching a fair agreement.”
AT&T hired almost 20,000 union workers in 2016 and is currently looking to fill more than 4,000 union positions, Richter said. The company has one of the largest union-represented workforces in the U.S. and has reached 25 labor agreements covering 102,000 employees in the past two years, he said.
Last year, about 39,000 Verizon Communications Inc. landline employees, most represented by the CWA, went on strike for six weeks. The work stoppage, one of the largest in the U.S. in recent years, ultimately dinged the bottom line of Verizon’s wired Internet and video business.
While invoking an issue of importance to Trump, a Republican, the 700,000-member CWA had endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders for president before shifting its support to Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general election.