Union members push back on AT&T’s return-to-office plan

Charli Haataja shares the results of a survey showing AT&T call center workers are more productive and less likely to miss work when allowed to work from home.

AT&T will begin forcing workers to report to call centers in Minneapolis and Bloomington next month, a decision that members of Communications Workers (CWA) Local 7250 condemned as unnecessary, risky and costly for workers and their families.

Union members aired those grievances at a press conference today outside the United Labor Centre in Minneapolis. They said corporate executives abruptly backed out of an agreement reached with CWA earlier this month to extend the Work-From-Home (WFH) agreement in place since COVID-19 hit in March 2020.

“They drew up a contract and gave us a return-to-office date of March 31, 2023,” union steward Yolanda Olmo said. “The contract was signed, but in less than 24 hours AT&T came back and said they weren’t going to honor that contract.”

Call-center workers said absenteeism is down and productivity is up since they began working from home, with workers more likely to work through mild symptoms, illnesses to family members, extreme weather and other events that might prompt them to avoid the shared workspace.

“You want us to be in each other’s faces,” union steward Angela Bates said. “Now, we may not be able to be in our families’ faces.”

Yolanda Olmo

A survey of over 500 CWA members found an overwhelming majority reported concerns about rising commuter costs, COVID risks and the safety of AT&T’s downtown location. Local 7250 President Kieran Knutson said members are “more united and passionate” about keeping their WFH agreement than any issue in his 18 years with the union.

“Work From Home is our new normal,” Local 7250 Area Vice President Charli Haataja said. “If you’re going to change that for us, we want actual reasons why.”

AT&T has yet to provide a legitimate business reason for the return to in-person work, union members said.

“You say that you need us to come back to the office for collaboration,” Olmo said. “We are credit representatives that collect money. Why do we need to collaborate collecting money?”

Meanwhile, call center employee Sara Fry said, costs associated with returning to the office – parking, transit, gas, child care – will hit workers like a pay cut when the policy takes effect Sept. 21.

“We haven’t had a meaningful raise in over five years,” Fry said. “We didn’t have the money before COVID, and we can’t afford to go back to the office now.”

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