Hartford, Conn. -- Following AT&T’s recent announcement that it is closing long-standing call centers in Connecticut and subsequently cutting middle-class jobs, the state General Assembly held a hearing Thursday on a bill that would protect these types of positions at big employers. Despite receiving $20 billion in a tax windfall and promising to create 7,000 jobs for every $1 billion saved in taxes, AT&T has instead been slashing good call center jobs in communities throughout the United States.
Connecticut is the latest state to push back against these cuts by AT&T with legislation. State houses in New York, New Jersey, Tennessee, Arizona, Minnesota and other states are also exploring legislation similar to the Connecticut bill.
“After nearly four decades of service to AT&T, it’s a slap in the face to hear from CEO Randall Stephenson that my only option is to retire or pick up my life and my family and move to Georgia,” said Paul Scherban, who handles 911 services and was notified two weeks ago by AT&T that his job would be cut. “I care deeply about my work to make sure that 911 calls are answered and am concerned that AT&T is placing its emergency services in jeopardy by removing people like me who have decades of training and skill under our belt.”
Paul and his colleagues are rallying behind SB990 (“An Act Concerning Call Centers and Notice of Closure”), which would protect call center jobs in Connecticut at companies with 50 or more full-time employees. Employers that relocate 30 percent or more of their call volume in a year would be subject to civil penalties. They would also risk losing grants, loans, tax benefits and state contracts.
AT&T announced last month its intention to close three call centers in Meriden, Conn. that provide support for AT&T’s network operations, including ensuring the reliability of 911 networks across 22 states. In addition to the 117 jobs cut in Connecticut, AT&T announced in January that 150 jobs would be cut at the Syracuse, New York call center.
At the Joint Committee on Labor and Public Employees’ hearing, Connecticut legislators heard testimony from leaders of Communications Workers of America Local 1298, the workers’ union, on the devastation that AT&T’s job cuts will create for working families and why a legislative fix is crucial.
“We’re working hard to enact this legislation because it’s important for our state to protect good jobs with family-supporting wages,” said State Senator Julie Kushner, who represents Connecticut’s 24th Senate district. “And we certainly shouldn’t be rewarding companies for cutting jobs that devastate our communities.”
Across state capitols, legislators are exploring options to protect call center jobs:
- In New York, the bill passed the last state Senate committee this week and is headed to the Senate floor.
- In New Jersey, the bill passed the Assembly in October 2018 with 53-23 vote and is headed to the Senate floor.
- In Maine, the bill is headed for a committee vote this month.
- In Tennessee, Arizona and Minnesota, there is bipartisan support for call center bills introduced into each state’s legislative body. Call center workers are making calls and writing postcards to their elected officials to gather support for a vote.
- In Nevada, California, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Colorado and South Carolina, call center bills are expected to be introduced in the coming weeks.
- In North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, call center workers and local union leaders are lining up sponsors to introduce bills.
This week, joined by the United Automobile Workers (UAW), CWA sent a letter to members of the Ways and Means Committee, including committee chair Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), urging the full committee to investigate how AT&T, General Motors, Wells Fargo and other major corporations are spending the enormous tax cut benefits they received from the 2018 tax bill. While AT&T boasts about making new hires, hiring to fill vacant positions and address turnover is not job creation. The company’s own documents show that it has eliminated 11,780 jobs in 2018 alone despite its $20 billion tax windfall.
“AT&T workers in Connecticut and across the country whose lives have been upended by closure after closure deserve an immediate explanation for AT&T’s continued broken promises. The call center bills we’re seeing throughout the nation are an important step forward -- and demonstrate the resolve of communities to fight back against corporate greed,” said Chris Shelton, President of CWA. “AT&T needs to make clear why, despite billions of dollars in tax breaks, they are choosing to eliminate good, middle-class jobs in favor of lower paid contractors in this country and overseas.”
And as AT&T is under fire for breaking its promise and shedding jobs, it is on track to pay out three-quarters of its 2018 profits to shareholders in the form of dividends and share buybacks.
A report by CWA examined the telecom giant’s continued role in hollowing out the middle class by eliminating thousands of jobs, closing call centers, and shifting customer service and network maintenance to low-wage contractors, including overseas vendors low-wage contractors, including overseas vendors.