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AT&T, which earlier this month announced the elimination of 71 phone-operator jobs in Connecticut, will cut another 106 positions in the state, union officials said Friday, although affected employees will be offered other jobs within the company.
Seventy-six of the job reductions are among landline-related installation and repair technicians, according to a sheet distributed to members of the Communications Workers of America Local 1298. This represents the elimination of about a third of the state's landline phone repair workforce, a union official said.
Eighteen service order specialists, seven all-distance specialists, one billing representative and four telemarketers also are being targeted for reductions. The 18 service-order processors all work in New London, according to the union.
"Their lives are being uprooted," William Henderson, president of the union local and a Niantic resident, said Friday outside an employee meeting room in AT&T's State Street office. "People are crying in there right now."
Adding insult to injury, Henderson said, billing processors in New London now will be forced to report to an AT&T office in New Haven until their jobs are finally eliminated.
AT&T said all people whose positions were being targeted likely would be retained.
"The affected employees have a guaranteed job offer that ensures they will be offered another job in Connecticut," AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said in an email. "All employees declared surplus in Connecticut in the last two years have either found other jobs with the company, continued to work in their current job while awaiting a guaranteed job offer, or elected to take a voluntary retirement package."
But union members said AT&T wasn't telling the whole story. While technicians probably will be offered a U-verse job, they first must leave their current positions and then be rehired at the bottom rung of the compensation ladder, losing both pay and benefits, the union said.
"They're just greedy," AT&T employee Kelly Vergalitto of New London said of company executives.
Kathy Chapman of Norwich, an 18-year employee who wears a T-shirt every Friday that reads "Prisoner of AT&T," said she found it ironic that technicians are being eliminated just weeks after Hurricane Sandy barreled through the region, leading company executives to order many workers into an evacuation zone and forcing technicians to work overtime to effect phone-line repairs.
Employees said company scuttlebutt is that all operators in the state will be eliminated by the end of next year, when the union contract expires. They said jobs would be outsourced overseas or converted to automated processes.
"The iPhone just killed us," said Elisa Zapp of Norwich, an AT&T operator.
A company spokesman said many of the technicians affected by the latest job eliminations will gain new positions on the U-verse side of the business, which is AT&T's digital television, voice and Internet service. Retaining these technicians would also allow AT&T to pull workers back to do landline repairs in case of outages resulting from a severe storm or other disaster, he said.
"The ratio of technicians to wired access lines has remained very stable over the last 10 years, as the number of lines has continued to decline," Richter said. "We've gone from serving 100 percent of the local residential voice market in Connecticut in 1999 to less than 40 percent today, and continue to lose an average of 7,000 wired consumer access lines per month in the state."
Nationwide, Richter said, AT&T has lost nearly 28 million lines as consumers continue to switch over to wireless technologies.
"We have a lot less lines, so unfortunately we don't need as many technicians," he said.
The union said layoffs may be avoided through AT&T's voluntary severance plan. Applications for the latest package must be received by Dec. 14, the union said, and workers have to be off the payroll by Dec. 28.
Operators had to inform the company by Friday about whether they were taking the buyout offer, and employees said AT&T gained voluntary separation agreements from the 71 required to avoid layoffs. AT&T said it offered an enhanced severance package that included six months of paid health insurance and an extra payout.
While the land-line side of its business has been slipping, AT&T noted that the company has been adding hundreds of jobs in other areas over the past 16 firstname.lastname@example.org