More than 20,000 union workers for AT&T in the Southeast are on strike as of midnight Friday, officials said.
Members of the Communication Workers of America – including 4,000 in Georgia – charged the huge telecommunications company with unfair labor practices during negotiations aimed at securing a new contract.
The previous agreement expired Aug. 3.
Since then, the talks have gone nowhere because the company has made sure that an agreement cannot happen said Richard Honeycutt, the union's vice president for the Southeast in a statement issued late Friday. "Our talks have stalled because it has become clear that AT&T has not sent negotiators who have the power to make decisions so we can move forward toward a new contract."
The company, which is based in Dallas, has annual revenue of about $170 billion a year. It includes the remnants of Atlanta-based BellSouth, which for more than two decades was the largest of the seven regional phone companies.
Company officials said they were blindsided and mystified by the strike call.
"We're baffled as to why union leadership would call one when we're offering terms that would help our employees – some of whom average from $121,000 to $134,000 in total compensation – be even better off," said AT&T spokesman Jim Kimberly.
Company officials were adamant about being prepared for a walk-out. In the days before the contract expired, AT&T officials said they would be prepared for a strike and that business operations would go on smoothly with managers, executives and contractors picking up the slack.
"We're prepared for a strike and in the event of a work stoppage, we will continue working hard to serve our customers," Kimberly said on Friday night
Union leaders scoffed at the notion, arguing that the company will have to prioritize work delaying new installations and non-emergency maintenance.
The union's Southeast region includes technicians, customer service representatives and others who "install, maintain and support" the company's landline and internet line services. The region includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Union officials have said that the key issues are job security and healthcare costs.
Workers could have stayed on the job without a contract, even if negotiators failed to reach a deal. More than 30,000 Verizon workers last summer ratified a contract after working for a year without one.
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