By Sheri Williams
About 40,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) struck against AT&T in May, including thousands in California.
Strikers at an action near the California Capitol saw the power of solidarity when they were joined in downtown Sacramento by hundreds of Democrats attending the state’s annual convention.
About 300 conventioneers, including Fabrizio Sasso, head of the Sacramento Central Labor Council, spontaneously took to the streets to help local CWA members make their voices heard.
“When they joined us, I was overjoyed and our members were ecstatic to see the overwhelming show of solidarity from the delegates who, without hesitation, came out to support striking workers,” said CWA’s Robert Longer. “It was an amazing sight and it made us feel great that we are supported by our brothers and sisters and the Democratic party. It certainly gave a lot of credence and strength to our fight against AT&T and I think they took note of that, not just locally but nationally.”
The strike came in response to AT&T’s refusal to negotiate a fair contract, said Longer.
“CWA has represented the phone company and AT&T workers since the Ma Bell days, from the very beginning, back in the 1930’s,” said Longer. “For about 80 years now, we’ve been bargaining with this employer, which used to be more like a family-type environment and over the years has turned into a profit-driven behemoth that only cares about money. To that end, we’ve been fighting what we’ve been seeing played out throughout the rest of the country, which is the decimation of our middle class.”
In California and Nevada, CWA has about 17,000 members who provide landline, phone and cable services. They have been working without a contract for more than a year. Those workers voted last year to support a strike with 95 percent of members backing it.
Workers from AT&T call centers and offices throughout California and Nevada picketed at dozens of locations across the two states with major picket lines in Los Angeles, Reno, Fresno, Sacramento, Bakersfield, Carson City, Tustin, San Diego and San Francisco.
Locally in the Sacramento region, nine retail stores are represented by CWA. Three of those nine shut down for the entire weekend of the strike.
AT&T is trying to increase workers’ health care costs while cutting their sick time, according to CWA. The union was also protesting that workers were being forced to do jobs outside their areas of expertise.
In an agreement reached between the workers’ union and the company late on the day of the strike, the company agreed it will no longer require technicians to perform work assignments outside of their expertise and classification.
Additionally, about 2,200 DIRECTV satellite and warehouse workers in California and Nevada who joined CWA in April 2016 are in negotiations with AT&T for a first contract.
Nationwide, more than 21,000 AT&T wireless customer service and field workers are working under a contract extension that can be terminated with 72 hours’ notice as they continue to bargain with the company. In the last week, wireless workers have intensified their calls on AT&T executives to end offshoring and outsourcing and have joined rallies and pickets coast to coast demanding good jobs that support their families and quality customer service.
AT&T reported $41.8 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2016 and has posted profits of more than $1 billion a month over the previous 12 months.
While AT&T is extremely profitable, the company has become disconnected from the day to day issues facing workers and customers. Despite the financial success, the company is asking its workers to do more for less – keeping them from their families with unpredictable overtime, undercutting pay and advancement, offshoring good jobs, and pushing more healthcare costs onto employees. At the same time, customers are paying increasingly higher bills to AT&T for essential services. The issues raised by AT&T workers are similar to those raised by Verizon workers last year in a 45-day strike.