AT&T workers in MS and eight other states talk possible strike

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Negotiations are underway to prevent what labor union members say could be droves of AT&T customers loosing service. It all stems from a contract dispute. AT&T and Communications Workers of America failed to reach an agreement before their contract expired at midnight Sunday. Here in Mississippi, some union members are talking of a possible strike.

AT&T employees held what they called a strike watch party in Jackson Saturday night. They were waiting to hear news on if negotiations between the company and the union would move forward before time ran out.

Michael Bishop is the executive director of C.W.A. Chapter 3511.

"We don't want to strike but if we are forced to, we will," Bishop said.

C.W.A.'s national website told union workers that "a strike has not been called at this time."

CWA is bargaining on behalf of its southeastern district which includes 32,000 workers in nine states including Mississippi. The union says the major contention with AT&T is over pay structure and healthcare expenses.

AT&T Spokesperson Walt Sharp told WLOX by phone, "We've heard accusations that we are cutting wages. That is untrue. We are asking employees to accept slightly more financial responsibility for their healthcare."

Sharp says the company is increasing what it puts into pensions and continuing to match 401k contributions while other employers are cutting back.

Union workers say a strike could affect customers using AT&T landline, DSL and Broadband services; however, AT&T disagrees. Sharp says the company has a contingency plan in place in case of a strike to make sure services continue.

AT&T says it is in contract talks all over the country, not just in the southeast. Employees in some areas are working under contracts that expired months ago. Meanwhile, union representatives told employees on Sunday to hang in there because difficult economic times make this round of bargaining infinitely more difficult.

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