Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Colorado telecommunications workers watch contract talks

By Dave Felice
In exclusive comments for Denver Direct, a union leader in Denver says the situation is “dicey” regarding contract negotiations between the Communications Workers of America and AT&T.
“I wouldn’t take the strike option off the table at this point,” says Bill Domgaard, President of CWA Local 7750.  Domgaard’s Local represents about 240 AT&T workers in the metro Denver area and a total of about 400 throughout Colorado and Wyoming.
According to Domgaard, “the company started (the negotiations) by trying to take us back 50 years and erase all the progress the union has made.”  He says that progress includes better health care, pensions, and job security.
Nationwide, about 40,000 union AT&T employees continue to work without a contract, while negotiators try to reach agreement.  The possibility of a strike remains after the contract expired over the weekend (April 7).  Employees of the company’s cellular operations, AT&T Mobility, are covered by a separate labor agreement. 
Workers criticize company officials for complaining about rising costs while AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson got $27.3 million in compensation for 2011.  Stephenson also got a $7.8 million dollar bonus this year, in spite of the company’s loss of $4.2 million on a failed bid to buy the T-Mobile wireless operations.  Speaking for Denver Direct, one worker put it bluntly, saying “company officials are a bunch of greedy bastards.”  Overall, AT&T had a profit of $4 billion in 2011.
The difficulties in AT&T negotiations follow a continuing lack of contract agreement between the CWA and Verizon, another large telecommunications firm.  Employees of Verizon have been working without a contract for several months.
Leaders of CWA District 7, based in Denver, are watching developments closely.  The contract between CWA and CenturyLink expires October 6.
Working without a contract, AT&T employees have the same wages and benefits as they had under the expired agreement, with the exception of binding arbitration on grievances.  If no settlement is reached, the union has authorization to call a strike.
Issues include health care costs and the ability of workers to transfer to another location if they are laid off.  AT&T says workers should bear more of the health care costs.  The company is also trying to slash costs of its diminishing business in wired telephones.
Three years ago, agreement on the latest contract followed an extension of negotiations.  AT&T, based in Dallas, has the country’s largest union workforce.  Over half of the company’s 256,000 employees are represented by a union.


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