Thousands of AT&T West workers in California reject contract, could strike

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Damian Dovarganes/AP

In this March 6, 2012 photo, an AT&T technician works on fiber optic cables used for the expansion of AT&T U-verse Internet service in the Chinatown neighborhood in Los Angeles. Unionized AT&T West workers rejected their contract Thursday. It’s possible the workers may strike Saturday.

Unionized AT&T West workers rejected a contract with their employer on Thursday, which could lead to a strike affecting the Communications Workers of America, which represents 18,000 AT&T employees in California and Nevada, from call center workers to technicians.

Such a strike could affect customers waiting for equipment installations or repairs.

T. Santora, president of an LA-based union under CWA, said workers did not approve the three-year contract because they disagreed with the wages and health care plans offered by AT&T.

“We regret it has come to this,” Santora said.

He said technicians for U-verse — an AT&T service that uses fiber optic technology to give digital TV, high-speed Internet and digital home phone service — earn at the top scale $22 an hour, compared to similar workers at Verizon that earn $33 an hour. The union would like to see those wages brought up, he said.

But AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said the contract would have increased wages for all workers by more than 8 percent over the next 14 months.  He said the contract also offered annual pension increases. 

“It’s unfortunate union membership failed to ratify the extremely fair tentative agreement,” Richter said. “These employees are already very well compensated, and they will continue to be. They have wages and benefits that are among the best in the country.”

The workers have been operating without a contract since last April, and a federal mediator was brought into help with negotiations. The majority of the unionized employees are based in California.

Santora said workers have already authorized a strike and union leaders will could decide Saturday if they will take action. Union leaders met with AT&T Friday and their members were instructed to go to work.

He said if a strike happens, it will impact service for AT&T customers.

“The immediate impact would be a delay in the telephones being answered and extension of the time required in order to have an installation or repair done in homes and businesses,” Santora said.

But AT&T said it is prepared for a work stoppage. The contract negotiations involve just a portion of its workers. The company has a contingency workforce of well-trained managers and vendors, said Richter, the AT&T spokesman. 

“We’re very prepared. We’re a very customer oriented company so we prepare for all contingencies, whether it’s an earthquake, a snowstorm or a potential work stoppage.”

The last time that AT&T workers staged a two-day strike was last year. 

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