Over the last three days, protestors in red shirts have lined the roadside of Dahlonega Highway in downtown Cumming, waving at passing cars and carrying signs that said, “AT&T Unfair”, “AT&T es Injusto” and “CWA on strike against AT&T.”
Each of the red-shirted protestors is a field service technician for the Dallas-based telecom giant and member of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) District 3 labor union, on strike for a series of alleged unfair labor practice charges that reportedly arose during the process of negotiating union worker’s most recent four-year contract.
Strikers allege that during the contract negotiation process AT&T acted in ‘bad faith” by not providing a representative with the authority to make decisions and reach an agreement.
“It turns out that for over three months, we have been bargaining with people who do not have the real authority to make proposals or to reach an agreement with us,” reads a post made to the CWA District 3 website on August 24. “AT&T has also changed to rules of the game by changing our agreement about how we meet and bargain. As a result, CWA was forced to file unfair labor practice charges against AT&T for bargaining in bad faith.”
Also alleged are complaints that AT&T has eliminated the compensation that is paid for company employees who serve on the CWA bargaining team and that some employees have been suspended or threatened with discipline for participating in activities protected by the National Labor Relations Board, like wearing red CWA union shirts.
According to Bill Hobbs, a Forsyth County local and AT&T wire technician, 20,000 employees in nine states have gone on strike due to the unfair labor practice charges, hoping that the show of unity will drive negotiations back on track towards a mutually beneficial resolution.
"We are all field service technicians doing separate jobs that keep the services running for everybody here in the community, from installing your internet to maintaining and building service out for new hospitals; we do it all," Hobbs said on Monday. "We want to be able to provide a service for the people of the community ... we're here to do our jobs, that’s all we've ever wanted to do from day one.”
Hobbs, who has been out on Dahlonega Highway with the other protestors since Saturday morning, said that he and his colleagues will be out on the roadway as long as it takes to get a positive resolution.
"There is no timeline in place, but we are here as long as it takes," he said. "We've never left the table … I can't speak to why the company decided to do what they did. We're still there, we're waiting on them."
In a statement made to the Forsyth County News on Monday, AT&T spokesman Jim Kimberly said that the company was surprised that union leaders would call for a strike during the negotiation, stating that the terms they have offered would help employees be “even better off.”
Kimberly also said that AT&T is ready to sit down with union leaders to continue negotiating a new and improved contract, and they will continue to serve customers during the strike.
“A strike is in no one’s best interest,” he said in an email. “Our bargaining team is negotiating this contract with CWA leaders in the same way we have successfully done with other CWA contracts over the years. We listen, engage in substantive discussions and share proposals back and forth until we reach agreement.”
Kimberly said that AT&T strongly disagrees with the union’s allegations of unfair labor practices, stating that the company has reached “20 fair agreements since 2017 covering more than 89,000 employees.”
And according to the CWA District 3 website, which has chronicled the bargaining process since mid-June, negotiations over the contract could soon resume again.
A post from Monday night states that representatives had met during the day to “discuss the various bargaining proposals on both sides.”
“Discussions are intense but there is a possibility that negotiations could move forward,” the post states. “Our bargaining team will be working late tonight. It is our desire to reach an agreement and attain the contract that our members deserve.”