Over 21,000 AT&T wireless workers have reached a precedent-setting tentative agreement that, in addition to curbing outsourcing and raising pay, wins the widest-reaching protections for transgender employees of any telecom industry contract. The tentative agreement, secured by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), provides the first-ever enforceable protections against discrimination based on gender identity in 16 states where no statewide non-discrimination law covering this category exists—proving the power of union bargaining in addressing workplace discrimination in all forms.
The tentative agreement – which also includes the first-ever commitment that AT&T will send a guaranteed percentage of customer service calls to union-represented call centers, rather than contractors – is enforceable across the 36 states covered by CWA’s bargaining unit. Many of these states have laws in place allowing companies to terminate employees for their gender identity or expression. In a bold step to address this inequity, the agreement’s language establishes full LBTGQ protections that provides a vital supplement to anti-discrimination laws by outlining a clear process for redressing discrimination through the union grievance and arbitration process.
“We stand in solidarity and unity with LGBTQ members of the CWA family. Their fight for equality and a workplace free of discrimination and harassment is our fight too and we are proud to carry the torch on their behalf,” said Dennis G. Trainor, Vice President of CWA District One. “This contract shines a light on the union power to drive progress—proving that no problem is too daunting to go unchallenged. Let this be a signal to opponents of LGBTQ equality, who are nearly always opponents of workers’ rights too: we stand strong together and will tear down all obstacles to full equality.”
According to the U.S. Transgender Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, the unemployment rate for transgender people is three times the national average and nearly 1 in 3 transgender people who had worked in the previous year reported mistreatment on the job that was directly related to their gender identity or expression. Unions play a key role in reversing this trend in states and among companies lacking comprehensive non-discrimination policies.
CWA has historically stood up for LGBTQ people in the workplace by pushing massive corporations to adopt more progressive and inclusive workplace policies. In 2013, CWA endorsed public and private trans-inclusive health insurance coverage. In 2015, CWA broadly endorsed a resolution to support comprehensive civil rights legislation to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, credit, education, government-funded activities and public accommodations and resolved “to be active in the struggle for equality inside and outside the workplace until all barriers to full participation in society are removed.”
In addition to the new AT&T wireless agreement, CWA has negotiated gender identity protections in other AT&T contracts covering wireline workers in the Southeast and in a legacy national contract.
“This contract shows a real commitment to the dignity and respect of working people, specifically transgender working people—a community that has long fought for equality in the workplace,” said Jerame Davis, executive director of Pride@Work, a nonprofit organization that represents LGBTQ union members and their allies. “CWA is a strong ally in the fight for LGBTQ equality and has demonstrated that by negotiating this provision that makes it possible for thousands of AT&T workers to go to work knowing they have affirmative protection against discrimination or retribution—many for the very first time. Unions have long fought for economic, social and workplace equality and, CWA has always been a leader among union in the fight for LGBTQ equality.”
CWA’s tentative agreement with AT&T provides 10.1% in raises over the course of the contract and shifts $2,500 from commission to base pay for retail workers. Under the new agreement, AT&T wireless retail workers would be paid an average $19.20 per hour by the end of the four-year contract, about 74% more than the national average pay for retail workers. This comes as a recent report by the Center for Popular Democracy finds that only 8% of U.S. retail workers are paid at least $15/hour, have paid leave and full-time hours.
For the first time at any wireless company in the country, workers have won guaranteed customer service work at U.S. call centers, representing an 80% increase in the share of total call volume over the current levels. AT&T wireless workers have also won first-time job security protections that require AT&T to find them a new job if their call center or retail store closes. Combined with better, more stable pay and reduced intrusive surveillance at work, the proposed agreement dramatically improves the quality of workers’ lives on the job.
Over the last 11 months, workers mobilized in 36 states and DC – holding rallies and picket lines and demanding AT&T invest in its workforce, protect the basic promise of high-quality customer service, and reverse offshoring and outsourcing with a fair contract. In May, AT&T wireless workers escalated their fight and walked off the job in a 3-day strike, forcing AT&T to close hundreds of retail stores across the country.
All 21,000 AT&T wireless workers will be voting on the proposed agreement by January 12.