More than 17,000 workers for AT&T belonging to the Communications Workers of America downed tools and went on strike in California and Nevada on Wednesday after restructuring talks broke down.
The dispute centers on AT&T's plans to make engineers servicing the US giant's U-Verse TV service also do repairs and maintenance on its cables and hardware for landline phone services, which is expected to lead to layoffs. The outsourcing of local call centers overseas is another major sticking point.
"AT&T made more than $16bn in profits last year, paid out $46m to its top executives and spent billions on costly mergers, but it's attempting to move good quality jobs out of California and Nevada," the CWA said in a letter [PDF] to management last week. "Workers are standing up for their communities."
The two sides have been negotiating on the issue since last April, when staff's current contracts expired. The union claims that it had no choice in the matter and must defend the rights of its members.
"We had some landline techs walk out yesterday over a dispute in one local in California, and it has spread to other areas in California and Nevada," an AT&T spokesman told The Register. "A walkout is not in anybody's best interest, and it's unfortunate that the union chose to do that. We're engaged in discussion with the union to get these employees back to work as soon as possible."
He pointed out that the biz is not planning to reduce anyone's wages or benefits, and is planning to recruit nearly 5,000 more union employees in the US over the coming year. Workers currently pay 40 per cent less for their healthcare than the national average, and less than their managers, he claimed.
As for interruptions of service, this strike is only going to affect AT&T's landline customers. AT&T's wireless and mobile customers will not be affected, he said, and contingency plans are in place.
"We're very prepared to continue serving customers," he said. "We're a customer service company and we plan for all contingencies, whether related to weather, natural disasters, work stoppages or any other factors." ®