Workers, public officials protest closure of AT&T call center in New London

Brenda Henderson, left, a 25-year employee at AT&T in New London, Kelly Rojo and Kim Avdevich, also New London AT&T employees, listen to one of the speakers during a protest outside the AT&T building in New London on Monday, protesting the decision to close the New London office and relocate to New Haven.
Dana Jensen/The Day Brenda Henderson, left, a 25-year employee at AT&T in New London, Kelly Rojo and Kim Avdevich, also New London AT&T employees, listen to one of the speakers during a protest outside the AT&T building in New London on Monday, protesting the decision to close the New London office and relocate to New Haven.

New London — About 30 local members of the Communications Workers of America union, joined by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and state Rep. Ernest Hewett, protested Monday outside the AT&T call center on State Street, saying corporate greed was driving a move to shift local employees to New Haven.

“This is a fight for our jobs,” said William Henderson of Niantic, president of Union Local 1298. “This is the place we are putting the line in the sand.”

“This is corporate profit first and workers last, and it is wrong,” Finizio said. “We need to keep those jobs here in New London.”

In response, AT&T pointed out that no jobs are moving out of state. And the company denied union allegations that the job shifts were part of an elaborate plan to send positions overseas.

“This has nothing to do with sending jobs overseas,” AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said in an email. “We work hard to maintain the viability of our businesses to preserve good jobs with excellent wages and benefits.”

Richter also denied that there was lack of room and parking for the New London workers in New Haven.

“We have room at the new location for everyone,” he said.

AT&T, which recorded corporate profits of $13 billion last year, announced last week that it would be closing its New London call center by July 15. Instead of losing their jobs, the company said, workers would be required to drive to New Haven to join a centralized call center there.

But Miriam DiNicholas of Southington, a union official who started her career at the New London call center 35 years ago, said company claims that all 78 jobs would be retained fail to take into account the many people who will not be willing to drive to New Haven. And for some who already drive from Rhode Island to New London, the commute will not make economic sense, she added.

“A lot of people will not be able to travel,” she said.

DiNicholas said jobs that are vacated will likely disappear from Connecticut.

“This is going to have a devastating effect on New London,” said John W. Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, a longtime labor activist who announced just last week that he will not stand for re-election in the fall.

“This is just plain wrong,” added Hewett, New London’s state representative and a union employee at Electric Boat for 20 years. “Just keep fighting. It ain’t over till it is over.”

The union said the call center job shifts are in addition to the loss of 36 statewide AT&T cable-splicer jobs and 17 telephone directory employees. The directory jobs are being sent to India, the union said.

The union said AT&T’s moves are part of a “continuing failure” by the company to maintain minimum service levels in Connecticut.

“For a company that depends on strong, vibrant communities, AT&T these days seems bent on being a wrecking crew rather than a good corporate neighbor,” Henderson said in a statement.

But AT&T pointed out that it continues to hire to keep up with demand in growing parts of its Connecticut business. For instance, it hired 375 U-verse technicians and retail specialists in the state last year, the company said.

“We are the largest employer of full-time union labor in the U.S., and the only major U.S. wireless company with a union workforce,” Richter said. “We provide our employees with excellent middle class careers with wages and benefits that are among the best in the country.”

l.howard@theday.com

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