Four days after it called a strike by 20,000 Communications Workers of America technicians, customer-service representatives and others who install, maintain and support AT&T’s wireline telecommunications network in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, the union announced Aug. 28 that a "handshake deal" had been reached on a new contract.

The old pact expired Aug. 3.

"CWA members' spirit and solidarity over the last four days showed the company that we would not back down until they bargaining with us in good faith," CWA District 3 Vice President Richard Honeycutt said in a statement. 

Bad-Faith Negotiating?

The job action was spurred by AT&T Southeast’s unfair labor practices during negotiations on a new contract, according to the union.

Before striking, the CWA filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board accusing AT&T of sending representatives to the bargaining table without the authority to make decisions.

Additional unfair-labor-practice charges were filed against the company in Florida for illegally disciplining members for wearing union memorabilia and participating in activities that are protected under the National Labor Relations Act.

The CWA made a major issue of what it said was AT&T’s failure to live up to promises made when its corporate leadership pushed for President Trump’s Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2018, which cut taxes by $1.5 trillion.

Didn’t Share Windfall

As a consequence of the tax rollback, AT&T saw its profits spike from $12.98 billion to $29.45 billion.

In a statement on its website, the union said AT&T brass tendered “specific promises on how large corporate tax cuts would benefit American workers. The company’s behavior since those tax cuts were enacted has directly contradicted those promises.”

It continued, “AT&T has refused to provide information that would allow its employees to hold the company accountable. Congressional oversight will ensure that AT&T executives are held accountable for their promises.”

According to a CWA fact sheet, “payments to shareholders through dividends and buybacks over that same period account for 72% of these profits.”

Top Exec Getting $29M

The Wall Street Journal reported that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson’s compensation package hit $29 million.

The strike occurred in the midst of an unprecedented consolidation of the telecommunications and entertainment industries with AT&T’s recent merger with TimeWarner Media, owners of HBO, Warner Brothers, CNN and Turner Cable Networks.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 15.4 percent of the telecommunications workforce is unionized. The median weekly wage for unionized workers was $1,051 in 2018, compared to $860 for nonrepresented workers.

In the aftermath of President Reagan’s 1981 mass firing of 11,000 Air Traffic Controllers who belonged to the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, the nation’s labor unions rarely resorted to strikes.

But in 2018 a Teachers strike in West Virginia that was successful appeared to signal a shift, with a record number of American workers engaging in a strike or some form of work stoppage.

In February the BLS reported that close to a half-million workers were involved in major work stoppages last year—the highest since 1986.

Company Resolute

Prior to the walkout, AT&T spokesman Jim Kimberly told Fox News. “We’re baffled as to why union leadership would call one when we’re offering terms that would help our employees—some of whom average from $121,000 to $134,000 in total compensation—be even better off.”

The statement continued, “You should also know that we have offered the union terms that are consistent with what other CWA-represented employees have approved in recent contract negotiations; the company has reached 20 fair agreements since 2017 covering more than 89,000 employees.”

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