COVINGTON, Ga. - Local AT&T workers lined the sidewalk in front of AT&T, on Pace Street in Covington, chanting and picketing over unfair labor practices Monday, Aug. 26.
"What do we want?" Jotonya Willis, AT&T electronic technician of 26 years, chanted through a megaphone.
"Respect!" The crowd of AT&T employees replied.
"We are here because AT&T is practicing unfair labor practices," Willis told The Covington News. "Our contract ended, and we're waiting on them to come back to the table to work out an agreement."
On Friday, Aug. 23, Communications Workers of America, or CWA, a labor union, released a statement of the upcoming strike, which was planned for midnight.
The CWA filed an unfair labor practice charge against AT&T with the National Labor Relations Board, an independent agency through the federal government, for "not bargaining in good faith and not sending representatives to the bargaining table with the authority to make decisions," according to the CWA press release.
“We entered these negotiations prepared to bargain in good faith with AT&T to address our members’ concerns and to work together to find solutions,” Richard Honeycutt, CWA District 3 Vice President, said in the press release. “Our talks have stalled because it has become clear that AT&T has not sent negotiators who have the power to make decisions so we can move forward toward a new contract.”
Jim Kimberly, AT&T spokesperson, told The News the company "strongly disagree[s] with the union's claims of unfair labor practices."
"Our bargaining team is negotiating this contract with CWA leaders in the same way we have successfully done with dozens of other CWA contracts over the years," he said. "We listen, engage in substantive discussions and share proposals back and forth until we reach agreement."
Kimberly stated that "a strike is in no one's best interest."
"We remain ready to sit down with union leaders to negotiate a new, improved contract for our employees," he said. "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.
“That’s why we’re surprised and disappointed that union leaders would call for a strike at this point in the negotiations, particularly when we’re offering terms that would help our employees – some of whom average from $121,000 to $134,000 in total compensation – be even better off.
“We’re prepared for a strike and will continue working hard to serve our customers.”
Kimberly assured the strikes will not impact customers, stating that the company was a "customer service company."
"We have systematically and thoroughly planned for a potential work stoppage, and we have a substantial contingency workforce of well-trained managers and vendors in place," he said.
Kimberly added that the company has reached 20 fair agreements since 2017, covering more than 89,000 employees, and the Southeast contract covers fewer than 8% of the company's employees.
The strike has involved more than 20,000 technicians, customer service representatives and others across the region who have the responsibility to install, maintain and support AT&T's residential and business networks, according to the CWA press release.
The strikes are being held in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.