Workplace

Union-backed protest claims AT&T got cash from tax cuts, reneged on promises

Communications Workers of America union members cheer as Local 6450 President Sarah Harreus (right) speaks at the podium during a CWA protest Thursday outside the AT&T building in Lee’s Summit.
Communications Workers of America union members cheer as Local 6450 President Sarah Harreus (right) speaks at the podium during a CWA protest Thursday outside the AT&T building in Lee’s Summit. Special to The Star

At its peak, an AT&T location in Lee’s Summit employed more than 2,000 people, but now fewer than 300 work at a call center there, the local union leader said Thursday.

Sarah Harreus, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 6450, which represents AT&T workers at a call center in Lee’s Summit, said jobs have been outsourced.

“We have workers on tour from the Midwest states through the country down into Texas to find where all the good jobs went,” Harreaus said. “We have had closing call centers, jobs that have been outsourced and off-shored.”

About 45 workers gathered at the Lee’s Summit call center as part of the “Broken Promises” tour that started Monday in Detroit and traversed through the Midwest. The tour ends Friday at AT&T’s Dallas headquarters, where workers will deliver a petition “urging the company to invest in jobs here in the U.S.,” according to a news release.

At the same time, more than 13,000 AT&T employees are working under an expired contract, and the union said in a release they are “poised to strike” if AT&T doesn’t provide more job protections in the next contract. The workers on tour claim AT&T hasn’t lived up to its CEO’s promise to make capital investments and create jobs, though the company maintains it plans to.

In November, Yahoo! Finance reported that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the Republican tax cut offered “major incentives for capital investment.”

“We would take full advantage of those incentives to accelerate a lot of the investment we are doing,” Stephenson said. “A billion dollars is an easy number to commit to.”

But since the tax law went into effect in January, the union estimates the company actually cut 7,000 jobs. CWA says in a report the company has cut 16,000 call center jobs since 2011.

AT&T contends just the opposite.

In an email, company spokesman Marty Richter said the company has hired 87,000 employees in the last three years and 8,000 this year alone. Richter said the company hired more than 660 in Missouri in 2017 and 200 this year and is currently hiring about 120 for call centers in Springfield and Cape Girardeau.

“At the same time, technology improvements are driving higher efficiencies, and there are some areas where demand for our legacy services (for example landline service) continues to decline, and we must sometimes adjust our workforce in some of those areas,” Richter said.

Richter repeated the company’s promise to make $1 billion in capital investments. And he said most union employees are guaranteed a job offer elsewhere in the company if their position is eliminated.

Shortly after Republicans passed tax reform, AT&T gave $1,000 bonuses to 200,000 employees. Richter said the company also invested $800 million in a medical trust for employees and retirees, and $100 million in the AT&T charitable foundation.

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