AT&T and the Communication Workers of America are running out of time to reach an agreement, with a potential strike authorized for Easter Sunday if the two sides can not reach a deal on a contract.
AT&T is currently negotiating with about 43,000 union employees covering four CWA groups, including those representing Pacific Bell in the West, Ameritech in the Midwest, SNET in the Northeast, and a group of AT&T Legacy employees.
All four groups have authorized the CWA's president, Larry Cohen, to call for a strike if the two sides cannot reach a contract agreement by midnight on April 7. A spokeswoman for the CWA told PCMag that "one or all" of the groups could strike, depending on the individual negotiations.
AT&T Midwest, which includes Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, includes 15,000 CWA workers. About 18,000 more work within what CWA calls the AT&T West region. Union members include call-center employees, technicians and repairmen, responsible for interacting with the public and repairing outages and other problems. If a strike does occur, non-union employees will be filling those roles.
"We have a very clear common goal that when it is all added up — wages, benefits, the complete package — that every single member, from the lowest paid to the highest, will be better off at the end of the contract than he or she was at the beginning," said Seth Rosen, a CWA vice president.
Chris Shelton, representing CWA District 1 in the Northeast, told union members Wednesday night that AT&T was "not doing much of anything," he said. "We have to get AT&T to pay attention and start bargaining for real here."
The two sides differ over healthcare costs, including the percentage of premiums each side is willing to pay, as well as other benefits.
"As one of the largest employers in America we're proud of the number of high-paying, middle class careers we've produced," Marty Richter, an AT&T spokesman, told Bloomberg. "Our goal is to do everything in our power to protect those careers."
The frayed negotiations are not the first time that the union and a major telecommunications provider have failed to reach a contract. Last August, 45,000 Verizon workers walked off the job when the two sides failed to negotiate a contract. That strike lasted for two weeks, when union workers agreed to go back on the job on the terms of their original contracts.
The two sides have not agreed on a new contract, and the CWA has joined T-Mobile and consumer groups in calling for the FCC to block Verizon's spectrum deal.
The CWA has also organized rallies to protest the closing of several T-Mobile call centers, although T-Mobile has said that it would hire laid-off employees who were willing to relocate.
The CWA negotiations with AT&T do not include AT&T Mobility, which reached a tentative agreement with AT&T in March. About 8,800 CWA members and AT&T wireless employees also reached a four-year agreement earlier this week, covering workers in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.