18 May 2004
Take this job and picket
Contracts between SBC and the Communications Workers of America run three years, and the last four contracts were reached with relatively little grumbling and/or sabre-rattling.
Not this year. The contract expired six weeks ago, and while negotiations have continued on and off, CWA has now announced a 24-hour strike notice. A strike isn't exactly inevitable at this point, but neither side, I think, really wants to avoid it: the union would like to appear just as hard-nosed and militant as possible, and the company would save a few bucks on payroll while the picket lines are up.
One sticky point was health care for pensioners. (Disclosure: I worked for the company long enough to qualify for the minimum retirement benefit.) Around Christmas, SBC sent a letter to retirees informing them that they would have to start paying the premiums for their health insurance. Benefits for retired employees, though, are not a mandatory bargaining issue, and under labor law not sufficient justification for a strike. Much of the negotiation since the April expiration of the contract has been devoted to getting this issue off the table; eventually, SBC agreed to delay the implementation of their plan for at least five years.
But with the pensioners now presumably taken care of, there are still thorny issues to be dealt with. One of these, unsurprisingly, is job security. SBC is moving into other areas wireless, DSL, satellite and CWA wants a piece of that action.
I'm guessing, at this point, that there will be a strike of about three weeks, about as long as it lasted in 1983. (Been there, carried that sign.) This enables the union to appear strong and forthright, and saves the company a few bucks before it caves in.