Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Mike Elk

Mike Elk is a labor journalist and staff writer for In These Times

August 10th, 2012 4:22 PM

As Some AT&T Unions Strike, Others "Scab"

Crossposted from the In These Times 'Working' blog

On Tuesday, 20,000 AT&T workers in California, Connecticut and Nevada went out on a two-day strike to protest unfair bargaining by AT&T.

The striking members of West Coast-based Communication Workers of America District 9 and Connecticut-based CWA Local 1298 claim that the company has given them a take-or-leave-it contract with concessions that they simply cannot take. Under AT&T's terms, "a new employee will pay 32 percent of their [health care] premium costs, plus a deductible of $1,000," says CWA Local 1298 President Bill Henderson. "A new employee making $18 an hour cannot afford that. He would be working to pay for his health care, and our feeling is that’s a bad contract.”

The locals are also upset that in May, AT&T began shifting work from business technicians--who make $30-$35 an hour--to apprentice technicians, who make $18-$22 an hour and are easier to fire.

What's surprising about the strikes is the lack of solidarity from CWA members in other districts. CWA members at AT&T call centers in District 4 in the Midwest voluntarily took overtime to compensate for the missed work of those on strike.

“Here we have a situation where the same union is scabbing on itself. It's sort of surreal,” says Kieran Knutson, a call center worker in Minneapolis and a member of CWA Local 7520.

CWA represents over 150,000 AT&T workers across the country. However, instead of a single national contract, the union must negotiate about a dozen different ones. There are nine regional bargaining units based on the telephone companies that were unionized before merging into AT&T. On top of that, wireless AT&T workers have their own units.

When CWA negotiates these various contracts, they try to stick to a common expiration date to increase their bargaining clout and make a collective strike possible. In theory, no district will sign a new contract until all districts have agreed to a deal.

But during the last round of contract talks, three years ago, some CWA districts settled for concessionary contracts without getting the approval of other districts. This year, it appears that the same thing is happening. On July 20, while some AT&T workers in were gearing up for a strike, District 4--based in Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan--cut a separate deal with AT&T.

“AT&T has a divide and conquer policy. They work one group against the other and that’s not a good thing for a national union,” says Henderson. “They offered us the same settlements that District 4 agreed to and we said no. Shame on District 4 and those other people who took such a lousy deal because they didn't have to. When they set the bar so low, it just doesn't hurt their members, it hurts all of the union.”

However, Jerry Schaeff, Administrative Director of CWA District 4, says that they were simply looking out for their own members when they took the deal. “The Midwest contract meet the needs of the Midwest workers,” says Schaeff. “We continue to support [the other CWA unions] any way we can. Our issues is employment security and we feel we got a good deal. Whoever gets done first usually gets beat up by others, but that’s just the way it is.”

“That’s a lie. District 4 didn't get any job security,” says CWA Local 1294 President Bill Henderson. “They got offered the things we already have in our contract because we fought harder in our contract last time. The biggest problem we have with District 4 is that we are on strike and they are signing up for overtime and they are directing calls to the Midwest. And they got nobody in their union telling them not to do it.”

In other CWA bargaining units that have already tentative agreements, there has been little attempt to coordinate solidarity activities with those still out struggling for contracts, says Minnesota-based Kieran Knuston, whose CWA Local 7520 has reached a tentative deal with AT&T. “Our district is at work while these guys are striking. I only found out about the strike from AT&T in an email about updates on negotiations,” says Knuston.

Another issue causing contention within the union is the federal lobbying support CWA has provided for AT&T's controversial planned merger with T-Mobile.

“Everyone at the union who worked on the T-Mobile deal should be ashamed of themselves. Now ATT is screwing them at the bargaining table. What the hell is going on?” says Henderson.

CWA President Larry Cohen and CWA Vice President for Technology and Communications Ralph Maly did not respond to request for comment on this story.

Some CWA members say that the missed opportunity for solidarity and leverage in AT&T negotiations has not only hurt AT&T workers, but also hurt CWA's negotiations with Verizon. After a three-week strike last August, Verizon employees have been working without a contract for a year.

“Verizon has mentioned at the table that CWA has agreed to premiums and certain concessions at AT&T,” says New England-based CWA Local 1400 President Don Trementozzi, a member of the bargaining team that has been locked in tense negotiations with Verizon for the last 14 months.

As a result of the Verizon deadlock, locals at both CWA and IBEW have taken strike authorization votes this week and have been begun to make strike assignments. The Federal Mediation Service has instructed Verizon to continue bargaining with IBEW-CWA until Wednesday, August 15. If the company seeks to impose the current terms, Trementozzi puts the odds of a strike by 45,000 Verizon workers in the Northeast at “60-40.”

“I think the company doesn't think we have the balls to strike,” says Trementozzi, “But I think we would rather try in the street other than taking those imposed conditions."

Henderson and other CWA reformers are optimistic that their militancy will inspire rank-and-file workers in other regions to fight against concessions. In Minnesota, Kieran Knuston is leading a “Vote No” campaign against his union's tentative agreement. “There are some significant concessions. My monthly medical cost is going to more than double over the life of the contract.”

“The only way to make gains is to have a credible threat of a strike. In order to have a successful strike, you have to unity among the working groups,” says Knuston. “I think it’s important that workers stand with folks that are out on strike and that we don't accept these tentative agreements.”

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law Donna Smith Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? Donna Smith We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa Nick Turse Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch Donna Smith The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

More in David Sirota's continuing series on the billionaire takeover of PBS: More PBS conflict woes as activists move to eject David Koch from board of...

Mar 3rd
12:35 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles