Communications Workers Strike for Better Work Opportunities with AT&T

STANDING FOR JOBS: About two dozen AT&T striking workers sang songs in front of their Montpelier Store on Sunday afternoon.

by Michael Bielawski

MONTPELIER — The singing and dancing in the street almost seemed like a celebration, but rather it was a strike by about two-dozen communications workers employed by AT&T which was livening up Main Street on Sunday afternoon, May 21.

Across 36 states and Washington D.C. over 35,000 AT&T workers decided to strike last weekend. They are part of the Communications Workers of America Union, which represents over 700,000 workers within the communications industry.

The strikers claim they have yet to get a decent offer at the negotiations table thus far.

They say that the company is sending too many of their jobs, such as their work at their call-centers, either overseas to developing nations and/or to the lowest paying sections of the country. And they believe the company is using too many “licensed dealers” which are ultimately third parties who can work for less pay and benefits than their union counterparts.

“They are making it very difficult for people to hold onto their jobs that pay well and have good benefits at places like this store,” said Josh Sausville, CWA1400 Chief Steward of Vermont.

The strike lasted three-days, it started at Friday 3 p.m. and they got back to work Monday morning.

“We’ve been at the negotiating table since February, and we’re just trying to bring it to the table so we can get a good contract,” said Sausville. “They keep raising our health cost contributions, and it’s just difficult for us to have money to have middleclass lives for our families.”

He said that he thinks the company has gotten the message.

“Yea they are definitely taken notice and a bunch of stores have had to close down because they didn’t have enough scabs to go around,” he said.

Sausville said he’s not part of the negotiations directly but “what I hear from the negotiators is that AT&T just doesn’t come to the table and want to negotiate with us.”

Shadi Battah is an employee at the Montpelier location, in he was also one of the leaders of the demonstration.

“This is my day off actually, I am off today but I came out here to show that I care about our future,” he said. “Someone needs to do it. Unfortunately, people are in there [the Montpelier AT&T store], this is the only store that has scabs. But it is what it is.”

Battah said the union members from his store that are working during the strike could end up getting fined by the union, but he doesn’t think that is likely.

“Yea, the union could go against them if we want but I don’t think we are going to go as low as they went,” he said.

Sausville said if they don’t see tangible progress made from these efforts then they could see another strike in the future which could last longer.

“Yea, I mean that’s always a possibility,” he said.

Marty Richter, an AT&T spokesman, said recently to the NY Times that the strikes are “baffling” and he said the communications workers are already getting paid around double what average retail workers make in the nation, at around $68,000 per year in salary and benefits.

Michael Bielawski is a freelance writer The Bridge. He can be reached at bielawski82@yahoo.com

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