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CWA Members Ratify AT&T East Contract In Connecticut Covering 3,200 Employees

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By Susan R. Hobbs

Members of Communications Workers of America Local 1298 “by a strong majority of workers voting” ratify a four-year labor agreement with AT&T Inc. in the East region covering about 3,200 wireline workers in Connecticut, the union and company announced June 3.

CWA Local 1298 President William Henderson praised union members and the gains in the new contract but recalled the arduous 16 months of negotiations. “It was a long difficult fight. Despite AT&T's continued success and large profits, management began negotiations with a long take-away list. By sticking together, CWA Local 1298 members were able to beat back bad proposals and make gains needed by workers. I am really proud of our Local 1298 members,” he said June 3 in a statement.

The collective bargaining agreement reached May 10 after 122 sessions of negotiations increases wages 10.5 percent, provides a $350 ratification bonus, continues a guaranteed job offer for employees scheduled for layoff, raises the floor of the cash balance pension plan by 1 percent, and increases employee health insurance costs.

CWA District 1 and AT&T East began contract negotiations in February 2012 (40 DLR AA-1, 2/29/12) and reached tentative agreement May 10 (96 DLR A-10, 5/17/13).

AT&T noted that CWA District 1 is the final AT&T wireline bargaining unit to reach a ratified agreement among seven that had labor contracts expiring in 2012 and early 2013.

The core wireline contracts cover employees who maintain and repair the fiber and copper networks over which regular telephone and cellular telephone signals travel, repair and install residential and business telephone systems, install AT&T's video product, and provide customer service and sales to AT&T customers. 

Negotiating Committee Recommended Ratification

In May, Henderson told BNA he believed the labor agreement would have been more favorable for the union if all the AT&T contracts had been negotiated with more national union coordination and leadership by CWA President Larry Cohen.

Henderson said he believes the AT&T East tentative contract is a “little better than the other regions,” but that he is particularly disappointed with the increases in employee health care costs.

Upon ratification, however, Henderson said June 3 in a statement: “Every contract is the result of negotiations, where both sides compromise. That's the real world. But we know we got everything we could, and though it took a long time, this contract was worth the wait.”

The union negotiating committee had recommended that union members vote to approve the settlement. 

Additional Pay for Premises Technicians

Workers will receive general wage increases of 5 percent effective June 16; 3 percent effective Aug. 10, 2014; and 2.5 percent effective Aug. 9, 2015.

In addition, premises technicians will receive a one-time wage increase of 55 cents per hour upon ratification.

Under the new contract, premises technicians' job duties will expand. Their weekly work schedules will be posted, and scheduling will be assigned by seniority. They are guaranteed one weekend off per month, and their assigned overtime is limited to 15 hours per week, a reduction from 20 hours currently.

Meal reimbursements for premises technicians are increased to $35 per day on overnight trips, up from $30 previously.

Eligible employees will receive annual lump sum dividends through AT&T's success-sharing plan keyed to company stock appreciation and dividends from 2013 through 2016. Employees will receive 150 success units multiplied by increases in the stock price over a year's term plus dividends declared in the award years.

According to an example in the company proposal, if the stock price in 2013 increased $5 over the award year term and AT&T's declared dividend was $1.80, an eligible employee would receive a cash payout of $1,020, normally paid each year in November. 

Higher Employee Health Care Contributions

Health care coverage will remain unchanged under the new contract, but employee contributions to premiums will increase Jan. 1, 2014, under a new tiered structure.

Employees hired before the ratification date will contribute $58 for individuals and $121 for families per month in 2014, $79 for individuals and $163 for families in 2015, and $90 for individuals and $195 for families in 2016.

Employees hired after the ratification date and before Jan. 1, 2014, will contribute $135 for individuals and $290 for families per month in 2014, $135 for individuals and $300 for families in 2015, and $90 for individuals and $195 for families in 2016.

Employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2015, will contribute $135 for individuals and $300 for families in 2015 and $150 for individuals and $320 for families in 2016.

Under the previous contract since June 2011, workers have contributed $35 per month to the health care premium for individual coverage and $75 for family coverage with in-network preventive care covered without deductibles or coinsurance.

Effective in 2014 through 2016, employees will pay annual health care deductibles of $500 for individual coverage and $1,000 for family coverage in network and preferred provider organizations or $1,300 for individuals and $2,600 for family coverage out-of-network and non-PPOs.

In 2014, out-of-pocket maximums will be $1,700 for individuals and $3,400 for families in network and PPOs or $5,100 for individuals and $10,200 out-of-network and non-PPOs. The amounts will increase for 2015 and 2016 to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families in network and PPOs or $6,000 for individuals and $12,000 for families out-of-network and non-PPOs.

AT&T will no longer fund health reimbursement accounts for employees.

Retiree health care coverage will continue under the tentative contract for eligible employees.

Effective Jan. 1, 2014, the basic cash balance pension benefit credits will be boosted by increasing the age credit factor by 1 percent, raising the credits to 4 percent. Employees hired after Aug. 8, 2009, receive pension benefits under the cash balance program.

The AT&T savings and security plan will be amended to provide catch-up contributions and a Roth 401(k) option. 

Job Security Provisions Continue

The new contract continues to limit the number of jobs that can be moved out of state to 350 jobs, a provision Henderson said is “a highlight.” He warned that many employees could be laid off however.

The national transfer plan includes voluntary movement in and out of the fast-growing Mobility wireless part of AT&T's business.

The existing enhanced voluntary severance plan also is extended through the life of the contract.

An employee who chooses instead to leave the company will receive a maximum benefit of $28,000, up from $26,000 under the previous contract, if for example his or her basic biweekly wage rate is $2,223. Employees earning more than $2,223 biweekly will receive a maximum layoff payment of $30,000, up from $28,000 under the previous contract.

The new contract provides a different procedure and time frame for the grievance and arbitration procedure which is expected to speed the process.

Employees may take five days of unpaid leave in addition to three days of paid bereavement leave upon the death of a wife, husband, daughter, son, mother, father, or legally recognized partner.

Terms of the contract are effective April 8, 2012, and expire April 9, 2016. 

New Contracts Covering 80,000 Workers

AT&T wireline employees represented by CWA previously have ratified, on Aug. 17, 2012, three-year contracts for 13,000 employees in the Midwest region and 5,500 employees at AT&T Legacy (161 DLR A-2, 8/20/12); on Dec. 7, 2012, a three-year contract for 22,000 employees in the Southeast region (236 DLR A-3, 12/7/12); on Feb. 27, 2013, a four-year contract for 22,000 employees in the Southwest region (39 DLR A-13, 2/27/13); and on May 1, 2013, a four-year contract covering 17,000 employees in the West region (86 DLR A-4, 5/3/13).

Together with the AT&T East agreement, these ratified agreements collectively cover about 80,000 CWA-represented AT&T wireline employees.

In addition, AT&T Midwest and AT&T National wireline employees represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers System Council T-3 on May 7, 2013, ratified a four-year contract covering nearly 6,500 wireline employees primarily in Illinois and northwestern Indiana (89 DLR A-5, 5/8/13).