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November 2022

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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AT&T Members Earn Big Gains in New Contract

Taking advantage of a favorable bargaining position, IBEW members employed by AT&T overwhelmingly ratified a contract in August that calls for improvements in wages, holiday pay, health care coverage and job protection.

"We look at it as an historic agreement," Telecommunications International Representative Kevin Curran said. "It's the most lucrative agreement we've negotiated in the last 20 years or so. We felt we used the leverage we had with the economy and with the administration now in the White House."

President Joe Biden's administration has been reshaping the National Labor Relations Board since his inauguration, making it more receptive to workers — which it was originally designed for — instead of large corporations.

"Under previous administrations that haven't been as supportive of labor, some companies' attitude has been 'So you want to file charges with the NLRB? See if we care,'" Curran said. "We'll get the paperwork for you."

Downers Grove, Ill., Local 21 Business Manager Paul Wright, who serves as chairman of the T-3 AT&T System Council, noted the IBEW and AT&T began negotiations early on two previous contracts. But this time, IBEW negotiators decided to take a more traditional and lengthy approach, believing it would lead to a better contract.

A tight labor market also enhanced the IBEW's negotiating position.

"They clearly knew the oar was in the water on our side of the boat," Curran said.

"Obviously, we feel like the wages and the health care costs are all strong points," added Wright, who, like Curran, has been a negotiator in multiple negotiations with AT&T.

The highlights include:

  • A 5-year contract "because we felt this was going to be a solid contract, we wanted a long-term agreement in place," Curran said.
  • A 16.5% wage increase over the five years, plus a cost-of-living adjustment based on the inflation rate in 2023 that begins in 2024.
  • Employees now can keep adult children on AT&T's medical, dental, vision and life insurance coverage until the age of 26. Previously, they could keep them on only medical coverage until that age. Benefit coverage also begins on the employee's start date. There previously was a waiting period.
  • An agreement that potentially allows employees to transition to another part of the company if their current duties are phased out. For instance, like most telecom companies, AT&T is phasing out the use of copper wire in favor of fiber optics, Wright noted. This serves as an attempt to keep members affected by that transition employed at the company.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day is recognized as a stand-alone holiday for the first time, giving employees an additional day off with pay.
  • Health insurance includes a new fertility benefit for employees and their dependents, saving thousands of dollars for members wanting to have children but struggling do so.
  • There is a memo of understanding that addresses a backlog of arbitration cases. "Dealing with a backlog of cases takes an inordinate amount of time away from other duties as business manager and penalizes members who feel like they have been unjustly punished," Wright said. "It's a process that has been bogged down for far too long."

"For the last 20 years, we've been playing defense trying to protect as much as we could," said Curran, a Local 21 member himself. "This year, we felt like we used the leverage that we had with the economy and a supportive administration."

The agreement covers members of local unions that are part of the T-3 AT&T System Council. Most employees covered by the contract are members of Local 21 in Illinois and northwestern Indiana.

Other locals covered by the agreement are Hollywood, Calif., Local 45; Detroit Local 58; Chicago Local 134; Milwaukee Local 494; East Windsor, N.J., Local 827; Boston Local 2222; and Worcester, Mass., Local 2325.

"Congratulations to our negotiating team and all our members employed by AT&T on a terrific new contract," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said.

"It's gratifying to see our telecom brothers and sisters earn such substantial gains while ensuring long-term labor peace with a major partner. It also is another example of why having friends in the White House and Congress is so important."


AT&T employees ratified a contract termed "historic" by IBEW negotiators.

Mid-Season Training Helps Boost
Football Broadcast Crews

College and pro football dominate American airwaves in the fall, making it a busy time for IBEW broadcast members working for CBS and Fox Sports.

During the next few months, however, it may be even busier than usual, something Broadcasting Department leaders have worked to address in recent weeks.

Led by International Representative Vinny Butler, the department held training sessions for potential new members and current members in other branches who want to work utility during football broadcasts. Sessions were held in Glendale, Ariz., on Aug. 18 and Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 10, with a total of 30 trainees in attendance.

Utility members in broadcast are technicians who carry the parabolic microphones — which look like small satellite dishes and are used to pick up sound from the field — or assist the hand-held camera operators. They are on the sidelines during a football broadcast.

The training session in Glendale was especially important. It was held at State Farm Stadium, which will host the Super Bowl in February. Fox Sports will televise it, which means IBEW members across the country will be called upon to work as technicians during the game and in the days leading up to it.

But about 25 miles away, the Waste Management Open — one of the highlights of the PGA Tour golf schedule — will be held at TPC Scottsdale on the same weekend. Televised by CBS, the tournament will put a squeeze on manpower, as IBEW broadcast professionals work as freelancers and often hop between jobs on rival networks with national agreements.

So, Butler and Broadcasting & Telecommunications Director Robert Prunn are working with Fox and CBS to ensure potential shortages are addressed now. The situation is made even more urgent by the fact some broadcast members retired or opted for other employment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Fox probably will hire 25-30 utilities for the Super Bowl," Butler said. "Can they handle that in Arizona? We're not sure yet, so we wanted to do a training session down there."

Arizona is a right-to-work state with little unionization in broadcasting. That means Fox will have to draw more utility workers from outside the area, Butler said.

"When Fox broadcasts a Super Bowl, because of the amount of utilities we have as members, they always ask if we can bring in a certain number from the local union," he said. "In bigger cities, like Los Angeles and New York or [Washington,] D.C., it might not be a problem. There's a lot we can go to. In other places, not so much."

Hollywood, Calif., Local 45 is one of the largest providers of members to the national television contracts. Business Manager Rodney Cummings said events like the one in Glendale allow the IBEW to grow its pool of utility members and give trainees a better idea what is expected on the job.

"It's important to hire people with skill and knowledge about what their roles will be," Cummings said. "This is why it's important to have these utility training sessions. People move, get sick or are no longer interested in working events and so on. The local needs a steady number of reliable workers."

Added Prunn: "We enjoy good working relationships with Fox Sports and CBS Sports so our department does everything we can to assist local unions in providing highly trained utilities for every event to our partners. The IBEW prides itself on all our broadcasting members, both utilities and technicians, on being the best in the business."

That is true in Nashville, which isn't scheduled to host an event the size of a Super Bowl, but it does provide steady work for broadcast members, thanks to the NFL's Tennessee Titans, college football and basketball and Major League Soccer games in the area. Like in Arizona, Tennessee is a right-to-work state with little unionization in broadcasting.

But that's where Nashville Local 429, a construction local, comes in. President Kim Sansom said some members ask to work as broadcast utility jobs because of the extra money. Others do it because they are sports fans and enjoy seeing big events up close.

"It's a break from that jobsite they've maybe been on for a long time and a breath of fresh air," she said. "Don't get me wrong. It's still work, especially when you're breaking everything down and getting it back to the truck. But it's a different kind of work. You're able to watch these teams play and be right down in the action."

The Nashville training was held at Nissan Stadium, the Titans' home field. Butler noted the good relationship the IBEW has with Fox and CBS management is due to members' hard work over the years. That helped get the training into a stadium. The IBEW has had a professional relationship with CBS since 1939, when it was a radio company, and with Fox Sports since its inception in 1994.

"We're not big enough to have a broadcast department, but we are blessed to get this training to fulfill the needs of CBS and Fox if the Titans are the A game [the top game on CBS or Fox that week] and they need extra utilities and extra parabolic mic operators," Sansom said.

Nissan Stadium is an open-air facility — unlike State Farm Field, which has a retractable roof — and the Nashville training session was plagued by rain. It slowed some instruction but not the enjoyment.

"They loved it," Sansom said. "We got some really good feedback from the members."

Cummings said working in that stadium setting is crucial.

"Trainees become familiar with the stadium parking, security check-in process and the television compound location," he said. "Knowing how to navigate the stadium access points before working an event reduces the chances of tardiness. Being on time — or, even better, 10 minutes early — to a venue helps the entire team."

Butler said the Broadcasting Department is ready to assist with hosting a utility training session if requested by a local union. They help grow membership and allow members of other branches a chance to earn more money or see the action up-close.

"We're giving the opportunities to local utilities in that area to join the IBEW and get some work and we're giving more opportunities to utilities that are already members and work in that area," he said.

It's a move that Cummings fully supports.

"Our reputation is always at stake," he said. "If the IBEW provides good and reliable workers to the networks, then the networks will see the IBEW as the go-to source for manpower for existing and future contracts."


Nashville, Tenn., Local 429 members and others learned how to use a parabolic microphone during broadcast utility training.