The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
picketed outside 150 AT&T Corp. offices last week to protest the company's alleged
treatment of union members at its cable systems.
An estimated 1,500 IBEW members took part in the one-day
action, which stemmed from AT&T's alleged refusal to give the 500 unionized workers it
inherited from Tele-Communications Inc. the same benefits as its non-union cable
IBEW officials also accused AT&T of trying to undermine
the union by offering its unrepresented workers stock options and participation in a
better health plan.
Overall, the union represents some 2,500 AT&T
employees. In a prepared statement, IBEW International president John J. Barry said that
after years of a "good working relationship" with AT&T, the company is
suddenly trying to force "second-class citizenship" on to its unionized cable
"At a time when the telecommunications industry enjoys
unlimited opportunities, there is no reason for a large, successful company like AT&T
to stonewall its own workers," Barry said.
LaRae Marsik, spokeswoman for AT&T Broadband &
Internet Services, the subsidiary that operates the former TCI systems, said the company
was "disappointed" that the union chose to picket, rather than let "the
negotiations move the process along."
The affected employees are workers TCI inherited when it
acquired all of Jones Intercable's properties in the Chicago market, Marsik said. After
the deal closed, she said, the company immediately recognized collective-bargaining
agreements that were scheduled to expire last month.
She characterized the IBEW's allegations as
"unfair," arguing that the company's offer to the unionized workers was
"equitable and comparable to what other company employees represented by the IBEW
receive in Illinois and Indiana."
"AT&T BIS respects the collective-bargaining
process, and it's our desire to negotiate a fair and equitable contract as soon as
possible," she added.
The union, however, contends AT&T has turned the
negotiations over to the law firm of Kreitzman, Mortensen, Simon & Irgang, which so
far has rejected attempts to grant parity to IBEW-represented employees.
"We want to meet face-to-face with AT&T's
labor-relations staff -- not some lawyers -- to hammer out a fair agreement," Barry
said. "Until then, we will inform the public of how AT&T's irresponsible actions
are threatening the living standards of its own workers and all employees in the
Union spokesman Jim Spellane said the pickets went up at
sites across the nation, including AT&T's corporate headquarters in Basking Ridge,
N.J., where 60 union members showed up.
"Obviously, we couldn't get all AT&T locations,
because there are so many of them. But we did get facilities in 49 states," said
Spellane, who picketed at one of eight AT&T offices in Washington D.C.
Spellane said the foundering negotiations were the result
of TCI's well-known aversion to "having unions on the property." Of the 24,000
former TCI workers, only 500 were union members, he added. "That goes to show you
what kind of union penetration TCI had."
Spellane claimed the same executives who fought organizing
efforts at TCI are trying to introduce that philosophy to AT&T, in an attempt to force
the union out.
"TCI's anti-union ways didn't go away just because
it's AT&T now," he said. "That kind of corporate culture doesn't vanish
overnight. It's TCI people running that division, and we believe they want us out. We'd
certainly rather see them influenced by AT&T, rather than see them introduce that kind
of thinking into AT&T."
Marsik argued that TCI's reputation as a non-union shop
indicated the MSO's employees felt that such representation "was not needed."
"Whether at TCI, or now at AT&T BIS, the decision
whether to be represented by a union is the employee's choice," she said. "In
the past, our employees have demonstrated by voting to reject union representation that
they felt that the treatment they received was fair."
AT&T and the IBEW must iron out an agreement by an Aug.
5 deadline. Spellane declined to say whether a strike is an option.
"It's too early to say," he said. "It
depends on how negotiations go. We'll plan our strategy from there."