Glendale AT&T; workers walk out over clash on union button

About 80 workers protested outside an AT&T dispatching facility in Glendale Thursday that was sparked, union leaders say, when a female technician refused to remove a union button she was wearing at work.

AT&T and its union workers are in contract negotiations and one of the main sticking points is healthcare coverage, said T Santora, president of Communication Workers of America, Local 9003.

In the last round of negotiations, workers agreed to pay 18% of their premiums, but the company now wants them to pay much more, Santora said.

When unions are in negotiations, their members often wear buttons or stickers showing their union support while at work, he said.

A few weeks ago, Santora said AT&T management complained about a certain button that asked the question “Where's The Fairness?” The question's acronym spells a derogatory phrase that's become popular lately — “WTF?”

Union representatives agreed to ask members to stop wearing those buttons, but thought other buttons were permissible, he added.

However, in the past several days, some AT&T managers have been asking lower-paid workers, known as premise technicians, to not wear any buttons or stickers showing union support, Santora said.

AT&T released a statement Thursday stating that the company respects employees' rights to express their opinions.

However, it added, “it is our policy to require appropriate dress for our employees in customer-facing positions.”

“We sent some technicians home after they refused to remove inappropriate stickers from their clothing before leaving the office to work in and around customer homes and businesses,” the company said.

AT&T also contended that it reached an understanding last week with union leadership that “customer-facing technicians” could only wear a particular sticker (which says “Fighting for the American Dream” and has a CWA logo).

At the Glendale facility, premise technician Nicole Napolitano came to work Thursday wearing a button that said “Give-backs, my....” followed by an image of a donkey's backside.

A manager asked Napolitano to remove the button, but she refused. Other technicians, who were mostly men, were wearing buttons that stated “Keep AT&T Off the Healthcare Low Road,” but the button Napolitano was wearing was singled out, Santora said.

Management said they would not schedule Napolitano to work that day, he added.

In a show of solidarity, all of the other workers walked off their jobs — even those already working out in the field — to protest outside the Glendale facility.

AT&T said it stands by its decision to not let technicians who work with customers go out in the field when they violate the agreement reached with the union.

“Apparently, these technicians chose to ignore that understanding,” the company said.

-- Mark Kellam, Times Community News

Twitter: @LAMarkKellam


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