Letter: AT&T broke its promise to workers

When Congress passed the tax bill in December, it was boosted by promises like AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson’s commitment to create 7,000 new middle-class jobs. But that same month, just 10 days before Christmas, AT&T laid off 116 workers at the Detroit call center where I work. I lost my job, as did many of my friends and coworkers.

For 25 years, I’ve worked as a customer service representative for AT&T. After the tax bill became law, I wanted to believe Stephenson. Detroit needs more jobs and with $20 billion in tax savings coming to the company, it seemed like a win-win. Instead, our call center was a sea of pink slips.

A new report shows that since receiving tax cuts, AT&T has announced the layoffs of 1,800 people across the Midwest, bringing the total number of layoffs in Midwestern states to 2,300 in the past three years alone. Since 2016, the company has closed four call centers in Michigan and Ohio.

The report finds that AT&T has eliminated more than 16,000 call center jobs nationwide in the past seven years. Many of those jobs were lost in cities where it can be hard to find another job with a living wage.

Where have these thousands of AT&T jobs gone? Rather than investing in us, the company is pulling out of Detroit and other Midwest cities and sending our jobs to low-wage contractors, including vendors in the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, India and Mexico. Often workers in these call centers are undertrained and underpaid compared to workers here in the U.S., which undermines customer service and puts AT&T’s long-term success at risk.

I’ve seen first-hand what customers go through when their calls are sent to these offshore call centers. Services are often added to their accounts without their knowledge or permission. Many are offered promotions that don’t exist. When they finally get through to a customer service representative here in the U.S., they are understandably frustrated and confused.

Across the Midwest and in our Legacy T contract nationwide, there are 14,000 of us fighting to get a fair contract that keeps good jobs in our communities. Last week, we rallied against offshoring and outsourcing at the telecom giant’s annual shareholders meeting. And, we’ve voted to authorize a strike if necessary.

Our elected leaders need to step up to the plate, too. A good first step would be passing the No Tax Breaks for Outsourcing Act in Congress to end tax incentives that reward companies like AT&T for shipping jobs overseas.

Merlin Milton, president

Communications Workers of America

Local 4004