AT&T Alaska workers vote to authorize a strike

AT&T has brought 4G LTE cell phone coverage to Nome. (Matthew F. Smith/KNOM)

AT&T workers in Alaska voted Wednesday to authorize a strike.

Their union, Teamsters Local 959, has been negotiating a new contract with AT&T for several months. They’re asking for cost of living increases and more affordable health care. Employees have written letters describing paying premiums of more than $1,000 per month for their families.

Last month, workers briefly walked off the job to protest AT&T changing work conditions without a new contract. Tim Kavanagh, 56, is a network technician for AT&T in Anchorage. He said it was the first time in his career that he’d experienced such a demonstration.

“I’m coming up on just shy of 30 years as a 959 member here in Alaska, and we’ve never had to push this hard, never had to go this far,” he said.

The union represents 175 tower climbers, technicians and other AT&T workers. They haven’t had a contract since March. AT&T also owns the telecommunications company Alascom, which supports the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and communities like Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.

The Wednesday strike authorization vote doesn’t mean workers are about to walk off the job, but it tells AT&T they are willing to strike if necessary. 

Kavanagh said a strike feels likely. AT&T’s CEO had a $24.8 million salary in 2021. That’s $3.8 million more than he earned in 2020.

“He’s going to justify that handsome sum by taking it off the dinner table of labor workers,” Kavanagh said. “That’s insulting. And I think enough people are insulted where, if it came down to it, yeah, it’s pretty likely.”

In an emailed statement, AT&T representatives said they were disappointed the union voted to authorize a strike and that they would continue bargaining in good faith.

“We’re proud to be one of the largest employers of union-represented employees in America,” wrote Jim Greer, AT&T assistant vice president of corporate communications. “While not surprising, we are disappointed the local Teamsters union voted to authorize a strike. Whether they strike or not, we will continue bargaining in good faith toward a mutually beneficial agreement.”

Several state representatives from Anchorage, including Democrats Rep. Ivy Spohnholz and Sen. Tom Begich and Republican Sen. Josh Revak, have written to AT&T to call for fair negotiations.

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