Retirees protest slow union talks with AT&T

CONYERS - Retired members of the Communications Workers of America marched with signs in front of AT&T Inc.'s Conyers facility Monday to signal the latest round of contract talks between the union and the telecommunications company.

CWA represents workers in nine states in talks with AT&T Southeast, based in Atlanta. The company completed talks with the union in other regions in April; however, talks for the contract with CWA workers in nine Southeastern states began again last week. The contract expires Aug. 8, and those in the picket lines Monday said both sides are far apart from an agreement.

Along Salem Road in front of AT&T's regional network control center, about 30 people, most in red shirts sporting the CWA logo, marched, chanted union slogans and held up signs pointing out AT&T's corporate profits and executive pay, as well as criticizing cuts in health insurance and job security they claim the company is seeking.

The scene was repeated across the Southeast as the union held similar protests at AT&T offices and facilities, union officials said.

Conyers resident Vickie Hemminger of the CWA Local 3250's Retired Members Council said retirees were walking the picket lines because the contract talks also involve retirement benefits.

Proposals to have workers and retirees pay more for health benefits troubled most protesters Monday along with job security for those still working, said Hemminger, who retired from AT&T in 2005 after 32 years.

"CWA bargainers have tried to come up with a national health care plan, but AT&T will not have anything to do with that," she said. "We want AT&T to be a good corporate citizen and have a discussion on health care with us, but they are just not interested in that."

Attempts to speak with AT&T officials Monday were not successful. The company's most recent comment on the ongoing talks was in a bargaining update released July 20 in which the company announced it had resumed negotiations for a new contract in the Southeast region.

Talks had been in recess since April, which both sides agreed to, with plans to reconvene this month, according to statement.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com