Union contract with AT&T includes 13.25% pay hike

More than 20,000 union workers around the Southeast unexpectedly struck AT&T on midnight Friday. They went back to work Wednesday afternoon. (AJC file photo)
More than 20,000 union workers around the Southeast unexpectedly struck AT&T on midnight Friday. They went back to work Wednesday afternoon. (AJC file photo)

Workers from AT&T will have greater job security and yearly wage hikes after a short strike ended with a new contract.

More than 20,000 union members in nine Southeastern states are covered by the five-year deal reached early Wednesday between the telecom company and the Communications Workers of America.

Workers went back to their jobs Wednesday after a four-and-a-half day strike.

AT&T spokesman Marty Richter declined to address contract provisions.

“We’ve been committed throughout this process to reaching a fair agreement,” he said.

Union officials stopped short of declaring victory, but they expressed satisfaction.

"This agreement provides substantial improvements for working people at AT&T Southeast," said CWA District 3 Vice President Richard Honeycutt.

As the previous, four-year contract expired, workers’ main concerns were job security and the rise of healthcare costs. They also complained of stagnant incomes.

"Workers gave up a lot during the recession and they haven't seen it come back," said Harley Shaiken, labor economist and professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "We are seeing more strikes in general, and unions are clearly becoming more assertive."

Among the provisions in the new deal:

  • Workers will receive a 3% raise this year, followed by yearly boosts of 3%, 2.25%, 2.25% and 2.75%. Those are slightly higher than the rate of inflation.
  • Workers will not pay a higher percentage of their healthcare.
  • The company will add a health savings account for workers
  • "Article 14," which limits the company's use of non-union contractors, will remain.
  • The company will continue to pay "double-time" for time worked beyond 49 hours a week.
  • AT&T will add 1% to worker pensions during each of the next five years.
  • The company will not widen the scope of work for wire technicians.
  • Workers who require boots for work will receive a larger subsidy to buy them.

Union officials said the company also agreed to improve provisions for short-term disability.

The previous, four-year contract with AT&T expired Aug. 3. But there was little clue that a strike was likely as negotiations continued. Then, late on Aug. 23, a terse statement came from the union: workers across the Southeast were walking out at midnight.

"A short strike can prevent a long work stoppage," said Shaiken, the labor economist. "I think the strike got the company's attention."

Some local unions in Florida had walked out prior to the strike because of local issues, but those did not prompt the wider strike, union officials said.

The strike involved mostly technicians and customer service representatives. About 4,000  of the strikers were in Georgia.

Over the next few days, union members hit the picket lines, while negotiators met in sessions the union described as “intense.” Tuesday, the union said an agreement looked possible, and early Wednesday the announcement of the new deal came.

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