AT&T Could Be Hit By Strike(s) On Easter Sunday

on April 07 2012 7:36 PM
A worker stops to text a message as he hand picks giant tecolote ranunculus flowers at the Flower Fields in Carlsbad, California March 27, 2012.
A worker stops to text a message as he handpicks giant tecolote ranunculus flowers on March 27 at the Flower Fields in Carlsbad, Calif. Presumably, text messaging would be one of the last services affected in the event contract negotiations between AT&T Inc. and the Communications Workers of America break down this weekend. REUTERS/Mike Blake

AT&T Inc. and the Communications Workers of America, or CWA, are cutting it close as they seek successors to four collective-bargaining agreements covering about 40,000 employees of the telecommunications company.

The current contracts expire on Easter Sunday at 12:01 a.m., according to Bloomberg News.

On March 31, CWA members voted to give the international union the authority to call a strike or strikes in the event one or more of the agreements cannot be reached by the deadline, Bloomberg reported.

Health-care costs and sick leave are among the sticking points in this round of negotiations, according to the CWA.

The AFL-CIO affiliate noted online that the bargaining's pace this time around is considerably lagging its pace the last time around, in 2009. In that case, AT&T and CWA negotiators kept talking after the contracts' expirations, and they were able to secure new pacts without a walkout.

The CWA is holding candlelight vigils, informational pickets, open houses, and rallies on Saturday in advance of the expiration deadline.

AT&T employs about 256,000 workers, and roughly 55 percent of them are represented by the CWA, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or other unions, according to the company's U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Form 10-K that was filed Feb. 24.

In its Form 10-K, AT&T noted: Contracts covering approximately 120,000 employees will expire during 2012. For contracts covering approximately 80,000 (mainly wireline) employees, the union is entitled to call a work stoppage in the absence of a new contract being reached.

Dallas-based AT&T is the country's largest employer of unionized workers, according to the Associated Press.

Update, April 8, 1 a.m. EDT: There are no agreements, and there are no strikes. Yet.

An AT&T online statement posted recently said:

While AT&T did not reach a settlement with the Communications Workers of America by the 11:59 p.m. EDT April 7 expiration of the East and Legacy T Core Wireline contracts, the parties have agreed to continue to negotiate.

The ongoing negotiation reflects the spirit of the longstanding relationship between the company and the union. Employees will work under the terms of the expired contract while negotiations continue.

The East contract covers more than 3,000 employees in Connecticut and the Legacy T contract covers nearly 6,000 employees spread across the country.

AT&T continues to bargain with the CWA in the Midwest region, where the contract expires at 11:59 p.m. CDT? and the West region, where the contract expires at 11:59 p.m. PDT.

And a CWA online statement posted recently said:

Separate contracts covering 10,000 workers represented by the Communications Workers of America at AT&T operations expired at midnight EDT, with many important issues not yet resolved.

Negotiations are continuing now at AT&T Midwest, covering 15,000 workers, with a deadline of midnight CDT, and AT&T West, covering 18,000, with a deadline of midnight PDT.

About 4,000 members of CWA Local 1298 at AT&T East and AT&T East Yellow Pages and 6,000 in the nationwide Legacy unit will continue to report to work for now, although that can change at any time. For workers, the terms of the contracts will remain in effect, meaning that wages, working conditions and benefits like health care will continue unchanged, with the exception of arbitration for grievances.

CWA members at those units overwhelmingly authorized union leaders to call a strike if fair contracts can't be reached.