Some AT&T employees threaten to strike over rising health insurance costs

Published 7:00 am Friday, August 21, 2015

att protest

SPEAKING OUT: AT&T workers hold handmade protest signs in front of the AT&T building on West Union. Photo by Jesse Wright.

A handful of AT&T workers were holding handmade protest signs in front of the AT&T building on West Union Thursday morning.

Although the men, who are technicians who install or repair television, Internet and some phone services, were not on strike, they say they will strike if AT&T doesn’t offer more money or in some other way offset rising health insurance costs.

The men are members of a nine-state union that is currently negotiating contracts on behalf of the employees. The technicians across the nine states have been working without a contract since Aug. 8.

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According to the demonstrators, the terms the telecommunications giant is offering are bad for workers.

“The company is demanding we double what we pay out of pocket each year and not compensate us,” said Britt Ikerd, a facility technician.

He said the company he’s worked for 12 years wants more work for less money. Ikerd said other technicians out Thursday had been working for the company for longer, and he added he likes the company—but not their terms.

“It’s a great job,” he said.

However, Ikerd said that in the last six years, employees have watched the cost of their medical policies increase, but the raises they’ve received have not kept pace.

“Six years ago, we didn’t pay anything but a co-pay for medical,” he said. “Now we pay $5,000 extra than we used to pay. We’ve gotten raises, but they don’t match what we’ve lost.”

Ikerd said the protest, which he called “informational picketing,” could turn into a full-blown strike if AT&T doesn’t agree to some better terms for workers.

Marty Richter, an AT&T spokesman, defended the company’s position.

“Our goal in these negotiations is to continue to provide our employees with high quality middle class careers with wages and benefits that are among the best in the country. Our employees in these contracts are very well compensated, and will continue to be. We are not proposing to reduce the wages of any employees in these contracts, and we remain committed to providing great benefits,” he wrote in a prepared statement.

In the same statement, he assured AT&T customers that even if there is a strike, the company won’t stop its regular workflow. Richter didn’t elaborate on what AT&T would do to cover the holes left by striking workers, but Ikerd said they told him that management would take over installing Internet, telephone and television service in the event of a strike.

“They claim they have 15,0000 management employees to do our job,” said Ikerd. “But most of those management employees have never touched a telephone cable or a TV cable.”

He said if there is a strike, getting new service could take weeks for customers.

Richter’s statement contradicts these claims.

“Whether it’s hurricanes, floods, snowstorms or even a work stoppage, we’re always ready. We have systematically and thoroughly planned for a potential work stoppage and have a substantial contingency workforce of well-trained replacements ready,” he wrote.

Ikerd’s union doesn’t include AT&T Wireless customers.

The negotiations began in June, and the cover employees in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.