Sunday, April 05, 2009

AT&T, CWA square off over healthcare benefits

Dallas-based AT&T says compensation for 112,500 of its employees who are members of the Communications Workers of America is unsustainable because the company has lost 15.3 million access lines, or 21 percent of its traditional core business, in the past three years. Competitors are largely nonunion, with benefits that cost less, AT&T says.

How many people do you know under the age of thirty that have a land line? Telephones with cords plugged into the wall are getting as rare as a dead-tree version of a newspaper. AT&T -- the former Southwestern Bell that swallowed up a couple of its spun-off-in-the-'80's rivals -- remains a very profitable company. Like the newspapers, though, they see a slumping economic environment as an opportunity to bust their union.

The company is engaging in "retrogressive bargaining" according to a CWA advertisement in Friday’s Star-Telegram. Although the company compares CWA healthcare benefits to those of union employees at struggling Detroit automakers, the situations are far different, a local union representative said.

"AT&T is a very healthy company," said Georgia Day-Thomas, executive vice president of CWA Local 6201 in Fort Worth. "We’re not talking about automakers.

"There are so many take-backs on the table, it’s just insulting to us," Day-Thomas said.

"We’re not asking for any more than what we already have."

Negotiations for the CWA’s District 6, which covers five states and 71,382 union members, are taking place in Austin. It is one of six CWA districts across the country, and one of five facing the same contract deadline.

Local 6201 has 2,579 members, including 2,130 members covered by the AT&T contract, Day-Thomas said. ...

"I think we’re going to the wire," Day-Thomas said. "I’m hoping that cooler heads prevail. I’m hoping that we don’t go on strike."

The last time the same set of contracts had to be negotiated, five years ago, an impasse resulted in a four-day strike.

Richter pointed out that even if the contract expires without an agreement at midnight, union workers could decide to continue working under the old contract, as they have in similar situations in the past.

The deadline is midnight tonight was midnight last night but the negotiations continue today ...

AT&T and unions for its landline workers were working past a strike deadline Sunday to try to reach agreement on a new contract.

Core wireline contracts across the country expired at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, but union-represented employees covered by those contracts continued to work under the old agreements, the two parties said.

Issues such as employment security and health care have yet to be resolved, but union members will report to work, "although that can change at any time," the Communications Workers of America said on its Web site Sunday. ...

AT&T earned a $12.9 billion profit for 2008, up from $12 billion in 2007. Its fourth-quarter profit fell 24 percent from the prior year, though, paradoxically because of its success in selling more of Apple's iPhones than expected. AT&T subsidizes the upfront expense of the iPhone, aiming to make the money back over the two-year service contract.

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