updated 04:55 pm EDT, Fri March 13, 2009
AT&T union strike likely
AT&T and its 112,500-strong labor force, the country's biggest unionized group part of the Communications Workers of America, are in negotiations over six new regional contracts. The telecommunications company is hoping to take advantage of the current economic conditions to reduce its health care costs, says a Friday report and because of this, UBS analyst John Hodulik predicts a strike by the union workers after talking to AT&T management, pointing to a successful four-day strike by the employees during the last re-negotiation five years ago. This time around, a different outcome is predicted as workers fear for their jobs. Earlier this month, the CWA and AT&T avoided a strike over pay, working conditions and other issues that could have seen 20,000 employees walk off their jobs.
AT&T as a whole is doing relatively well in the poor economy, though the contracts in question cover the company's slowing wired phone employees and not the growing cell phone arm. AT&T is arguing these workers are paying less for health care than mobile employees, and also wants to cut retiree health benefits.
Hodulik says AT&T management employees were trained to maintain operations during a strike.
The union has its own perspective on the matter. "AT&T is doing well financially, even in these economic times. AT&T should be a leader in maintaining quality jobs and quality benefits," said CWA union spokesperson Candice Johnson, adding the union is realistic about what it can get from AT&T. In the Midwest, some members of the union showed up to work wearing hospital scrubs, Band-Aids and in wheelchairs and crutches to display their feelings about the company's plan.
AT&T spends $5.5 billion a year on health care, while last year's revenue was $124 billion. A spokesperson for the company said the current contracts only require employees to pay 8 percent of their annual healthcare costs, far below the national average of 34 percent. AT&T also wants to introduce a deductible that varies in accordance with each employee's wages.