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Tue, Apr 07, 2009 - Page 10 News List

AT&T and union strike negotiations go past deadline

AP , NEW YORK

AT&T and unions for its landline workers were working past a strike deadline on Sunday to try to reach agreement on a new contract.

Core wireline contracts across the country expired at 11:59pm on Saturday, but union-represented employees covered by those contracts continued to work under the old agreements, a statement issued by AT&T said.

Issues such as employment security and health care have yet to be resolved, but union members will report to work, “although that can change at any time,” the Communications Workers of America (CWA) said on its Web site on Sunday.

The union said several of its districts have filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), accusing AT&T of refusing to provide information necessary to resolve outstanding issues.

“The CWA bargaining teams are very frustrated by AT&T’s slow pace in negotiations,” union spokeswoman Candice Johnson said late on Saturday.

AT&T spokesman Walt Sharp said the NLRB charges are “very common” during negotiations and that AT&T stands ready to negotiate at any time to reach an agreement.

AT&T is the most heavily unionized company in the US, with either 112,500 CWA workers (according to the company) or 125,000 (according to the union).

The company has said a strike won’t disrupt phone service because managers and contractors can keep the operation running. When this batch of contracts expired five years ago, workers struck for four days before reaching an agreement.

One key issue is the Dallas-based company’s attempt to have workers and retirees pay more of the costs of their health care. The company has said it spends US$5.5 billion per year to subsidize health care for 1.2 million people, including workers, retirees, and dependents.

The company said other remaining issues include wages, pensions, and work rules.

Contracts for workers in five units were each expiring at 11:59pm local time in their region. Each region was bargaining separately. That means some could make a deal while others strike, Johnson said.

The units include a national group as well as workers in the Northeast, Midwest, Southwest, and West. The talks were taking place in New Haven, Connecticut; Oakton, Virginia; the Chicago area; Austin, Texas; and San Francisco.

An update posted on Saturday by the unit that covers Midwestern workers said the company was offering “modest wage increases that would likely have our standard of living move backward over the life of the contract.”

AT&T also wants to reduce the value of lump-sum pension payments and eliminate the pension for new workers, the union said.

AT&T “told us that the benefits/pension proposal was a ‘final offer.’ They are either not serious about the word ‘final’ or not serious about getting a contract,” the union wrote.

Workers in the Southeast, who were bargaining in Atlanta, agreed to stop negotiations and reconvene this summer. Their contract doesn’t expire until August so they can’t strike at midnight, the company said.

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