As heavy rain settled over Gardendale on Monday, Ken Smith and Harrell Acton stood under a tent on the corner of Fieldstown Road and Brookwood Court, holding soggy, battered signs declaring a strike against their employer, AT&T. The brown, nondescript building behind them is one of AT&T’s central offices that houses the wires, cables and computers that connect local residents to those outside the area.
Smith and Acton join more than 20,000 employees currently striking in nine states because of what the Communications Workers of America union calls “unfair labor practices.” CWA announced the strike on Saturday and picket lines formed on Monday morning.
According to Steve Monk, president of CWA Local Chapter 3902 in Birmingham, there are approximately 600 workers in the Greater Birmingham area that are impacted by the strike. Although he didn’t have an exact number from north Jefferson County, he said that many of the workers did live and work in the Gardendale area, specifically.
AT&T’s contracts with these employees ended Aug. 3. Monk said the union’s team in Atlanta had been trying to renegotiate the contracts but AT&T had failed to send anyone to the negotiations that had the power to agree to the new contracts. That resulted in the CWA’s complaint of unfair labor practices against the company, Monk said.
“They’re just not being fair with us,” Monk said. “And they’re not approaching these negotiations in good faith.”
The states involved are Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana, and does not impact AT&T Mobility employees.
In a statement, AT&T said: “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. 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.”
Monk called the statement, particularly the average salary quote, completely untrue. “It’s indicative of the kind of attitude they have,” Monk said. “That’s just a blatant lie. I don’t know where they got that number.”
Monk said the salary range for the workers he deals with is usually $24,000 to $80,000 maximum and the average would be on the low end of that.
Striking workers, particularly those in Gardendale, have received overwhelming support from the public, according to Monk. He said people are honking their horn, waving and even stopping to voice support, as well as bringing food and drinks to the workers.