AT&T and union talks continue past deadline
By Joshua Freed, AP Business Writer
Sunday, April 5, 2009
AT&T and unions for its landline workers were working past a
strike deadline early 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, according to a statement issued by AT&T.
The two sides are still far apart but union members in the East
will continue to report to work for now, said Candice Johnson,
spokeswoman for the Communications Workers of America.
"The CWA bargaining teams are very frustrated by AT&T's slow
pace in negotiations," Johnson said late Saturday.
AT&T stands ready to negotiate at any time in a continuing
effort to reach an agreement, company spokesman Walt Sharp said.
AT&T is the most heavily unionized company in the U.S., with
either 112,500 CWA workers (according to the company) or 125,000
(according to the union).
The company has said a strike won't disrupt phone service
because managers and contractors can keep the operation running.
When this batch of contracts expired five years ago, workers
struck for four days before reaching an agreement.
One key issue is the Dallas-based company's attempt to have
workers and retirees pay more of the costs of their health care.
The company has said it spends $5.5 billion per year to
subsidize health care for 1.2 million people, including workers,
retirees, and dependents.
The company said other remaining issues include wages, pensions,
and work rules.
Contracts for workers in five units were each expiring at 11:59
p.m. local time in their region. Each region was
bargaining separately. That means some could make a deal
while others strike, Johnson said.
The units include a national group as well as workers in the
Northeast, Midwest, Southwest, and West. The talks were taking
place in New Haven,
Oakton, Va.; the
Chicago area; Austin,
Texas; and San Francisco.
An update posted Saturday by the unit that covers Midwestern
workers said the company was offering "modest wage increases
that would likely have our standard of living move backward over
the life of the contract." AT&T also wants to reduce the
value of lump-sum pension payments and eliminate the pension for
new workers, the union said.
AT&T "told us that the benefits/pension proposal was a 'final
offer.' They are either not serious about the word 'final'
or not serious about getting a contract," the union wrote.
Workers in the Southeast, who were bargaining in Atlanta, agreed to stop negotiations and
reconvene this summer. Their contract doesn't expire until
August so they can't strike at midnight, the company said.
The employees covered by the expiring contracts work for the
part of the company that is shrinking. AT&T's traditional
wired phone business fell 3.3 percent to $17.1 billion last
year, while wireless revenue grew 13 percent to $12.9 billion as
customers continued to defect to cable phone services or dropped
their landlines in favor of mobile phones.
AT&T earned a $12.9 billion profit for the year, 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.