Business

20,000 AT&T workers strike; company says customers 'a priority'

About 20,000 AT&T Inc. workers in the East and West started striking Tuesday even as the telecommunications giant reached tentative deals with unions in the Southeast.

The company's contracts with two major branches of the Communications Workers of America expired in early April, leading to months of acrimonious negotiations. Now, 17,000 wireline employees in California and Nevada and 3,000 employees in Connecticut have decided to strike, AT&T said in a statement.

Wireline businesses have slumped in recent years as use of land-based phones falls off amid the rise of mobile devices.

Tuesday's walkout "is not in anyone's best interest," according to AT&T, the largest phone business in the nation. In a statement, the company said the workers already have "high quality middle class careers with wages and health care benefits that are among the best in the country."

"These employees are very well compensated, and they will continue to be," AT&T said.

The strike is especially "unfortunate," AT&T said, considering that the company had just completed handshake agreements with other union workers over similar issues.

Paperwork is being finalized on three-year deals with the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in the Southeast that involve wage boosts and "modest pension increases," AT&T said.

The deals, affecting 22,000 employees in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and North and South Carolina, must be ratified by union votes before taking effect.

As for the striking workers in the East and West, AT&T said it's ready to rumble.

"AT&T places a priority on customer service," the company said. "AT&T has been planning for more than two years to handle a work stoppage like this, and has a substantial contingency workforce of well-trained managers and vendors in place."

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