The Dallas Examiner
Chants of “No contract, no peace,” and verbal promises of a strike mingled with the sounds of the downtown streets April 28 as AT&T employees protested outside the company’s annual stockholders meeting.
The demonstration that took place in front of the Dallas City Performance Hall highlighted not only a contract dispute that has left some employees without a contract for more than a year but also underscored workers’ unhappiness with the number of jobs the company has outsourced overseas. More than 38,000 workers are involved in efforts to negotiate for a long-term contract with the company, according to a spokesperson for the group.
Vera Alatorre, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 9505 and collections representative for the company, described some of the details that employees were rallying against.
“They will not give us benefits [or] raise our benefits, raise the retiree’s benefits. They also want to put a cap on our pensions, so we’re here to stand united and keep everything going for us,” the 20-year employee remarked.
The conflict over the contract stemmed from what Alatorre said was the company’s unwillingness to negotiate.
“They pushed everything off of the table. They don’t want to bargain with us, you know; we’re having a hard time bargaining with AT&T,” she said, commenting that the company was instead interested in buying other companies such as HBO and Time Warner. “And yet, they are refusing to bargain with us … not even to make a little tiny budge on our contract, so, they’re having a really hard time doing that.”
Another 20-year employee, Earnest Tilley, believed the contract impasse could impact those who most need steady employment. When he considered the number of women and minority employees the company staffed, “I would say probably a good 60 to 70 percent,” was his estimate. “It’s a big, big percentage.”
John Stankey, CEO of AT&T Entertainment Group, was approached to share his thoughts on the protest as he spoke to and posed for photos with the picketers; however, he declined. Instead, the company provided its AT&T Labor Relations Fact Sheet, which states that the company has hired almost 20,000 people into union-represented jobs in the U.S. in 2016 and is the only major wireless company with a unionized workforce.
“We’ve reached fair agreements with 29 bargaining units since 2015, covering over 128,000 employees,” the sheet stated. “Over 20,000 of our employees here in the Southwest Region approved earlier this month an early agreement that includes a commitment to hire 3,000 people in the region, sourced from work that’s currently performed mostly offshore.
“We also announced another agreement earlier this week, including an announcement that we’ll be hiring 1,000 people and opening a new call center in Chicago.”
However, Alatorre contends such statements contradict one of the issues the employees have.
“[Because] AT&T is known for outsourcing and me, as president, we’re called ‘surplus,’” which she indicated meant her department could be leaving the stateside confines of the company, “because everything went outsourced, outside to the Philippines. They’re going to the Philippines, Mexico, Colombia … everywhere else but the United States.”
She further maintained that, should such outsourcing continue, the chance of data theft would increase.
“They’re known to breach information,” Alatorre said about the company. “So they’ve been fined twice already for breached information from our customers. And they’re breaching information, such as Social Security [numbers], credit cards, everything. And they still don’t understand that the point of being here in the states is we don’t do that. We don’t write anything down. Nothing; when you write anything down we get into disciplinary action.”
Alatorre also affirmed that she has seen her department go from 434 representatives in its Pacific Bell era to 64 representatives through the past two decades.
The fact sheet ended stating that no Texas or Southwest Region contracts were currently involved in the bargaining, which was also a spot of contention for the Alatorre. Moreover, she said the jobs being outsourced could be redirected to areas in the U.S.
Alatorre emphasized she would like to see more jobs in California, but not necessarily contracting jobs, but more so union jobs. Contractors are not direct employees of the company, while union workers have benefits such as medical insurance and negotiating power – for wages, working conditions and other issues.
“It’s time to stop playing games,” Tilley commented. “We made too much money for this company for them to be delaying getting a contract ratified. Enough is enough.”
He asserted that local employees have had trouble advancing within the company due indirectly to the outsourcing.
“Even the ones that are currently employed, the possibility of moving across the company to another job that’s more fitting to them has been a challenge to folks because of the surplus,” he said.
When a department receives the designation of surplus, that department gets precedence to new job opportunities within the company.
“A lot of times the jobs they’re offering aren’t jobs [employees] really want. In some cases, they’re not skilled in their position to get those jobs, so it’s been a hindrance on both sides,” Tilley stated.
The purpose of the public protest was to gain attention, he added.
Protest organizers also said that, as customers are still experiencing low performing high speed internet service and a recent episode of 911 outages on AT&T mobile phones, the company has continued to bring in over $1 billion a month and overpay executives.
“Public opinion matters,” he said. “And we just ask … we need everyone’s support to note AT&T is a multibillion dollar company. The CEO alone made $24 million last year. That’s enough to care for two call centers’ health care coverage, which every time it’s contract time they want to increase us paying more for health care. Just that [money] alone would care for that.
“So, come on now, it’s not rocket science. It’s mainly corporate greed.”
He said that he has not seen such action in his time with the company.
“It hasn’t been this bad. Well, I also know it’s been an issue,” he said in regard to past negotiations. “But it’s gotten real bad lately.”
This was the community’s first demonstration directed at AT&T, yet Tilley mentioned that such momentum might grow.
“Absolutely, absolutely” he declared, then clarified, “Well, I hope, but my gut says it will.”