Workers in AT&T’s credit collections department walked off the job in Minneapolis this afternoon, joining a “grievance strike” to demand AT&T stop denying sick pay to its longest-serving employees.
About 200 of the department’s 243 workers, members of Local 7250 of the Communications Workers of America, joined picketing outside AT&T’s offices at 9th Street and Marquette Avenue, according to union reports.
Striking workers plan to return to their posts tomorrow, Local 7250 President Shari Wojtowicz said. But the walkout put AT&T on notice that union members are standing behind their co-workers whose requests for sick leave have been denied.
“I think it was unexpected for the company,” Wojtowicz said of the strike. “It’s unfortunate for our customers because we pride ourselves on our quality of customer service, but if we’re not able to take care of ourselves or our families, it’s difficult for us to provide that service anyway.”
The grievances prompting the strike involve workers with 25-plus years of experience at AT&T, who are no longer eligible for sick pay when they miss work to care for an ailing family member, according to company policy.
Workers allege that policy is illegal under the Minnesota Parenting Leave Act, which lawmakers passed in 2013 to expand workers’ access to sick time during family health emergencies, whether it’s a child, parent or spouse who is ailing. State regulators agree, and a lawsuit between AT&T and the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry is advancing in federal court.
“AT&T is actually spending more money on lawyers to avoid following the law than it would cost them to comply with it,” Wojtowicz said.
But Local 7250 members aren’t waiting for a judge to make AT&T do right by its longest-serving employees.
“They’re basically discriminating against their most senior, most dedicated people, the people who have made this company what it is,” Local 7250 member Susan Anderson said. “It’s shameful, especially with the profits they have, the perks that their CEO gets. Yet they are basically trying to nickel and dime us to death.”
The strike is unique to grievances between Local 7250 and AT&T, but the slow pace of negotiations between CWA and AT&T on contracts covering about 17,500 workers nationwide factored into workers’ decision to go on strike, Wojtowicz said.
CWA’s previous contract with Legacy-T, the branch of AT&T that covers Minneapolis, expired April 11, leaving workers without arbitration rights included in the agreement.
“Our members have taken matters into their own hands, walked off the job in the hopes the company will work with us to resolve this issue on behalf of all employees,” she said.