AT&T workers begin three-day strike

By Don McIntosh

AT&T workers in 36 states and DC walked off the job May 19, beginning a three-day strike to protest a lack of progress in contract negotiations. Taking part in the strike are AT&T Mobility nationwide, plus land line workers in California, Nevada, and Connecticut, and DIRECTV technicians in California and Nevada. It’s the first time workers in AT&T’s wireless division have struck.

The strikers are members of Communications Workers of America (CWA), which represents about 40,000 workers in the striking bargaining units.

AT&T is pulling in $1 billion a month in profits, and paid its CEO $28.4 million last year. But CWA says the company isn’t making fair proposals on wages, benefits, and job security. The previous union contracts expired in February.

The union wants an end to what it calls the pervasive outsourcing of jobs to low-wage contractors. AT&T has eliminated 12,000 U.S. call center jobs since 2011, and now employs 38 third-party call centers in eight countries, CWA says. The company is also increasingly using outside contractors known as “authorized dealers” to sell products and services. Workers at those locations aren’t AT&T employees — or union members.

Headquartered in Portland, 666-member CWA Local 7901 represents several hundred AT&T wireless and DIRECTV workers in the Portland metro area. On Day One of the strike, Local 7901 decided to concentrate its forces at the AT&T retail outlet at Mall 205. There, Local 7901 executive vice president Celeste Jones, an employee of the AT&T store in Gresham, led a group of about 20 strikers and supporters. Participation in the strike was stronger at some locations than others: Only some workers at the Mall 205 store walked off the job, and employees at the Lloyd Center store on Northeast Broadway reportedly resolved as a group not to take part in the strike at all, but strike participation was solid at the Gresham and Clackamas Town Center locations.

“It was really weighing in my heart, and I felt like this was the right decision,” said Mall 205 AT&T employee Jacob Shoda about his choice to take part in the strike. Shoda, who’s worked at AT&T for six years, said he’s reached the top of the pay scale, $17.50 an hour. He also earns $1,200 to $2,000 a month in sales commissions, but a change AT&T made in its commission structure significantly reduced his commission earnings in the last year. CWA wants the next contract to bar the company from changing the commission structure unilaterally.

About 90 minutes into the strike, the Mall 205 picketers got a visit from a special guest: U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley. Merkley dropped by to meet strikers and walk the strike picket line, along with several members of his staff.

Strikers expect to return to their regularly scheduled shifts Monday morning.

MORE: See more picket line photos here.

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) visits a strike picket line May 19 outside the AT&T store at Mall 205 in Portland.

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