IBEW members employed by AT&T approved a 5-year agreement with AT&T with the company that ensures the largest wage increases and the strongest benefit improvements in at least two decades.


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.

“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.”

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 both 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 piece with a major partner. It also is another example of why having friends in the White House and Congress is so important.”