On the picket line at the AT&T store here, a popular chant was “AT&T rich and rude. We don’t like your attitude.”
Workers told Socialist Workers Party members who joined their picket line in solidarity that AT&T rakes in nearly a billion dollars a month in profit while cutting workers’ paychecks. Rahul Godra, a retail worker, said his commissions were cut by 40 percent in the past year.
The striking AT&T workers belong to the Communications Workers of America, but because they work for separate divisions, they’re covered by different contracts.
The majority are in the wireless division, including workers at retail stores and call centers. Many are young and were proud to be on a picket line for the first time in their lives. Their contract ran out in February and they are fighting against outsourcing to nonunion contractors and for higher wages to make up for increased health insurance costs. AT&T also has call centers in other countries where it pays workers substantially less than in the U.S.
The strikers were joined on the picket lines by workers in the AT&T wireline division in California, Nevada and Connecticut, which includes landline phone and internet service. These workers have been without a contract for over a year.
“At first I was not sure we should be out here with the mobile workers,” said Gerry San Juan, a worker for four years in the landline division. “We had a meeting about it and I was convinced that we and the mobile workers are one. That when we support each other, we will all be better off.”
“Things just get worse and worse,” said Johanna Aldrich, a worker for 35 years in the wireline division. “They take one person’s job and give different parts of it to others. They take the higher paid jobs and give them to lower paid people. They cut sick days and ask us to pay more for medical.”
“We’ve gone for over a year without a contract. I am thinking we need to hit the company harder,” said Marco Sahagun, a young wireline worker. Because of his four years with the company he is not in the lowest pay tier, he said, but he believes the divide-and-rule practice of paying new hires less was weakening the union.
“They make less, yet the new people have to pay more for medical,” Sahagun said. “It’s not right.”
One of the demands being raised in the strike is to end the two-tier plan so new employees can afford health care with no increase in premiums.
“We have to pay $300 a month for health care and a deductible of $4,500,” call center worker Dea Polchow said at the Chicago picket line May 21.
Workers in DirecTV in California and Nevada, bought by AT&T in 2015, also joined the strike. They voted to become members of the CWA, but have yet to win a first contract. “I’d like to see us get improvement on scheduling,” said Jose Ramirez, who works out of the DirectTV yard in nearby San Leandro. “Only the senior guys get a weekend day off. And we don’t know the schedules ahead enough to plan our lives.”
In March 17,000 AT&T wireline workers went on a one-day strike in California and Nevada against management’s practice of assigning work previously done by more experienced and higher paid employees to workers in lower pay classifications. The company backed down.
Betsy Farley in Chicago contributed to this article.
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