The following opinion piece was posted in the Anchorage Daily News and can be found online HERE.
OPINION: AT&T needs to pay its Alaska employees fairly
By Joelle Hall
As the United States economy teeters on the brink of recession, it’s worth remembering that 2021 was the most profitable year for American corporations since 1950. Yet, when I look at the economy, I see businesses exploiting supply chain bottlenecks, a foreign war, and a pandemic to bring in record profits on the backs of consumers. The system is working well for Fortune 500 companies, C-suite executives, and Wall Street investors, but now that the run is over, it’s America’s workers and consumers left holding the bag.
Alaskans are learning this firsthand at the gas pump, grocery store, auto dealership — and now, at the bargaining table. Currently, hundreds of working Alaskans employed by AT&T are embroiled in tenuous contract negotiations. These Alaskans have been working without a contract for 130 days.
The Alaska men and women who are employed by AT&T and are proud members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 959 and willing and ready to come to the table to negotiate a fair contract. And yet, AT&T corporate continues to bargain in bad faith, using deliberate dilatory tactics and unilaterally changing working conditions under an expired contract.
With inflation and rising health care costs, Alaska’s working families need a fair return on their work. AT&T’s operating income rose by 264% between 2020 and 2021, while CEO compensation was 24.8 million in 2021, an increase of 18% over 2020. Meanwhile, health care premiums will increase by 7.5% in November 2022 and AT&T wants workers to shoulder 98.5% of that price increase. AT&T is also proposing paltry wage increases of 0.5% and 1.1% over the next two years, which do little to combat inflation and rising costs experienced by working families.
AT&T workers are essential to communities around our state, both urban and rural. Mechanics and technicians travel year-round throughout Alaska to repair equipment and keep telecommunications systems running, including dangerous work in remote locations that can only be done via helicopter airlifts. Due to aging equipment, outages and dropped connections, which can be common, are quickly repaired by workers whose specialized knowledge and training make sure Alaska stays connected.
At the AT&T third quarter 2019 earnings conference call, AT&T corporate executives announced a 3-year plan to cut labor costs by 4%, including employee benefits, as part of a $6 billion cost-cutting effort.
So, when corporate robber barons like AT&T show us it can continue to earn massive profits and reward shareholders and C-suite executives but not the men and women doing the work, we must push back. We must say not in our town, not in our state, not in our country. It is the very reason labor unions exist, to balance the playing field and give workers the opportunity to bargain collectively for fair compensation.
I’m proud to stand with the hardworking men and women of AT&T and I call on the company to stop profiting off their work while lowballing them at the bargaining table. It is beyond time to give them a contract they deserve.
Joelle Hall is the president of the Alaska AFL-CIO.