Frustrated by a lack of progress in contract talks, more than 17,000 AT&T union members in California and Nevada walked off their jobs on Friday.
The Communications Workers of America called a three-day strike to protest the nearly 13-month period that AT&T workers in California and Nevada have been without a contract. About 37,000 workers nationwide — as much as 14% of AT&T's workforce — are expected to join in the weekend strike.
Workers are expected to return to work on Monday.
"We are fighting for good family-supporting jobs," Bob Master, an assistant to the vice president of CWA District 1 in New York, said Friday. "We don't think the company realizes just how angry and upset their workers are."
The strike includes about 2,000 technicians who work in California and Nevada installing and repairing equipment for the satellite television service DirecTV. The union said the walkout marked the first time that AT&T wireless workers in 36 states have gone on strike, which they said could result in some closed retail stores this weekend. Only company-owned stores, not so-called authorized retailers, would be affected.
The Dallas-based telecommunications giant was aware of the prospect of a work stoppage, even as contract talks continued this week.
"We're prepared, and we will continue working hard to serve our customers," Marty Richter, a representative of AT&T, said in a statement. "A strike is in no one's best interest, and it's baffling as to why union leadership would call one when we're offering terms in which our employees in these contracts — some of whom average from $115,000 to $148,000 in total compensation — will be better off financially."
The two sides have been laboring over a new agreements to replace ones that expired in April 2016 and earlier this year. Workers have complained that AT&T has cut sick leave and disability benefits and asked them to to pay more for their healthcare. Union members also have been worried about the stability of their jobs, contending that AT&T has cut more than 10,000 call center workers since 2011 and moved those jobs to countries with cheaper labor.
AT&T said it was confident that it would hammer out a new pact, noting that it has reached 29 agreements since 2015 covering over 128,000 employees.
A separate agreement was structured last month with another unit of the CWA and includes a commitment to hire 3,000 people for positions that are currently filled by offshore labor.
AT&T has been under pressure to control costs as its biggest business — wireless phone service — has matured and faces rising competition from Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and cable companies such as Comcast.
An estimated 21,000 of AT&T's wireless phone service workers nationwide voted in early February to authorize a strike as their contract expired. Many of those workers planned to participate in the weekend protest, another union representative said.
The CWA staged a one-day strike in late March to iron out an issue of job duties for certain technicians.
The labor dispute comes as AT&T is seeking government approval for a massive $85-billion takeover of entertainment company Time Warner Inc., which includes CNN, HBO and the Warner Bros. movie and television studio. AT&T acquired El Segundo-based DirecTV nearly two years ago and is the largest pay-TV company in the U.S.
2:55 p.m.: This article was updated with additional responses.