|IBEW Reaches Tentative Agreement with AT&T
While tough times in the telecommunications industry are the reality for thousands of wireline workers, IBEW members at AT&T may be getting a brief reprieve.
Two weeks after negotiations kicked off just outside Chicago, the two parties reached a tentative agreement May 30 to extend the existing contract by 12 months. The contract — which covers 7,000 employees in Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and the Northwest — had been set to expire on June 23.
"I am pleased we were able to reach an agreement on extending the contract during this difficult time," said Ron Kastner, lead negotiator and business manager of Downer's Grove, Ill., Local 21.
Nearly all contract language will remain in effect, except for some modifications in benefits, which will be offset by signing bonuses and wage increases. The parties agreed that there will be no layoffs through September 14.
Members will vote by July 10 whether or not to ratify the tentative agreement. If it passes, new contract talks will be put on hold until next year. If it fails to ratify, the two parties will be back to the table in July.
IBEW leaders initially met with AT&T management May 15 in Hoffman Estates, Ill., to begin negotiations on a new agreement. Despite pulling in $3.9 billion in net income last year, AT&T had been looking to impose concessions on the wireline work force, primarily in the area of health care benefits. The company maintains that its largely nonunion wireless division is picking up the fiscal slack of the sagging wireline sector, which employs IBEW members who maintain traditional landline technology.
"But that's simply not true," said Kevin Curran, IBEW International Representative in the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Department. "The wireline side has accounted for nearly half of the company's overall revenue. Also, without the service that our members provide to the wireline side, the wireless technology wouldn't work, plain and simple. This knocks down the company's argument that we maintain a so-called dying part of the industry."
Union employees at AT&T and rival company Verizon who work in the companies' wireline divisions have faced strong opposition from management in the past year.
Last August, more than 45,000 members of the IBEW and CWA who work at Verizon walked off the job to protest the breakdown of the bargainging process and draconian cuts in their health care benefits while being slammed with higher retirement contributions. The parties resumed talks after members returned from a two-week strike.
When talks between the IBEW and AT&T opened in May, lead negotiator Kastner used his opening statement to express dismay at AT&T's efforts to erode the CWA members' hard-won gains. "The IBEW is disappointed that the company has proposed major labor concessions in talks with the Communication Workers of America," he said.
"However, there will be no harmony in the workplaces of AT&T should the company make those kinds of unreasonable demands — demands that would potentially wipe out 50 years of gains from those who fought those fights before us," Kastner continued. "This is not the future we see or want. This is not the AT&T America sees or wants."
Curran said that as AT&T is making sizeable earnings, "Our membership doesn't expect to take a bunch of diminishments at a time when we're significantly responsible for the company making such outstanding profits. If AT&T was on the verge of bankruptcy, we would have been having some different discussions, but it isn't."
IBEW members covered by the AT&T contract include members of System Council T-3, which is comprised of members from Downers Grove, Ill., Local 21; Chicago Local 134; East Windsor, N.J., Local 827; San Francisco Local 1269; Philadelphia Local 1944; Boston Local 2222; Springfield, Mass., Local 2324; and Worcester, Mass., Local 2325.
Members perform inside and outside technical services, marketing and sales duties, clerical work and more.