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Latest News - April 2012

April 23, 2012
AT&T workers miss service calls after dust-up over pro-union stickers
Source: Mercury News
By: Aaron Kinney

A playful three-letter acronym caused a serious disruption for AT&T and its customers Monday when hundreds of network technicians in various parts of the state were sent home for wearing pro-union stickers and buttons on their shirts.

Employees in Oakland, San Mateo and San Jose were among those told not to work due to the off-color implication of the pink stickers, which say "WTF" and, in smaller letters, "Where's the fairness?"

The stickers caused chaos in AT&T's managerial ranks, according to the Communications Workers of America, which is representing the workers in contract negotiations. Technicians in some locations were sent home and threatened with discipline while others were allowed to go out on service calls, said union spokeswoman Libby Sayres.

"This is happening at AT&T work locations throughout California and in Nevada but not consistently," Sayres said of the disruption. "Management seems to be in complete disarray."

AT&T spokesman John Britton, however, said the company is well-managed and prepared for any labor disturbances. The company did not have an estimate for how many Bay Area customers were affected by the labor dust-up, but Britton said the majority of technicians went about their business as usual Monday.

In a written statement, the company said the stickers are not appropriate for technicians to wear while interacting with customers in the field.

"While we respect our employees' right to express their opinions, it is our policy to require appropriate dress for our employees in customer-facing positions," the company said. "We sent some employees home after they refused to remove 'WTF' stickers, or buttons, from their clothing before leaving the office to work in and around customer homes and businesses."

Sayres downplayed the use of the risque acronym, which commonly stands for the phrase, "What the (expletive)?"

"What our buttons say is 'Where's the fairness?' -- and if there's a double-entendre there, there's a double-entendre there," said Sayres, claiming that wearing the stickers is protected under labor law as a "concerted activity" in support of collective bargaining rights.

The Communications Workers of America represents about 18,000 AT&T technicians and call-center employees in California and Nevada. They have been without a contract since April 8 and claim AT&T, which posted a net income for 2011 of $3.9 billion, has been asking for cuts in health care and other benefits during negotiations. The controversy began Thursday, when some of AT&T's U-verse TV technicians were barred from work in San Jose for sporting the stickers, according to the union. More workers began wearing them in solidarity.

In San Mateo, more than 30 workers stood with pickets outside a 19th Avenue maintenance yard Monday morning after they were told to leave. The technicians handle calls on the mid-Peninsula and Coastside related to everything from U-verse to telephone and Internet service.

AT&T claims it employs more full-time union employees than any other U.S. company, and that they are well-compensated. The average network technician makes $133,000 in wages and benefits, according to the company.

"We're committed to working together with the union to bargain a contract that will allow us to continue to provide and protect high-quality, middle-class careers for our employees," said Britton, the AT&T spokesman.

 

 

 


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