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Union prez: AT&T = Arrogant Thugs & Thieves

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published April 25. 2014 4:00AM

When I first spoke to William Henderson, president of Local 1298 of the Communications Workers of America, to talk about AT&T's emptied buildings in downtown New London, he was especially critical of the Texas-based phone company.

Henderson, who blasted the company for anti-urban policies after it recently moved hundreds of workers out of New London, is critical of the way the company operates without being accountable to anyone.

"My feeling is they are arrogant thugs and thieves," Henderson said, making creative use of the initials in the company's name. "Maybe we were spoiled when we had a homegrown phone company."

I was ready to write off some of Henderson's criticism as union tactics, bluster, until I tried to get some answers from his "arrogant thugs," not only about why they have abandoned New London, not even shoveling their sidewalks over the long winter, but shutting off a city street for a construction project that appears stalled.

Methodist Street, alongside the company's apparently empty and increasingly decrepit tower on Washington Street, the one with the ugly antennas on top, has remained closed all winter by AT&T contractors.

Someone in the city's building department told me they got a lot of complaints about the closing of Methodist Street, a popular downtown shortcut, when it first occurred last October.

The department at that time granted a permit allowing the contractors to encroach on the Methodist Street sidewalk, a permit that expires in May.

An enormous set of staging is built across the entire sidewalk. Big piles of new brick, apparently destined for façade repair, remain stacked all over the empty parking lots.

Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard said police gave only informal approval for plans for a limited street closure. He added that police will meet with the Department of Public Works to review what's going on with the street closure.

The city ought to remove the concrete barriers and reopen the street immediately.

I didn't have any luck getting information from AT&T, which did announce it was moving employees out of its building at 200 State St. but has never explained why the big Washington Street tower appears empty, too.

Curiously, there seems to be no media phone contact information anywhere on the Web for AT&T. I did find one number for executive offices, but when I called it I got a recorded message suggesting I write a letter. Odd, for a phone company.

I eventually tracked down a spokesman last week. That person referred me to the company's public relations agency in Providence, Duffy & Shanley. The person I spoke with there promised to get back to me, but didn't.

I then got an email from Kate MacKinnon, a Massachusetts-based AT&T news relations director, who sent along a brief statement that did not directly address any of the questions about the New London properties.

"I was trying to see if I would be allowed to share any specifics on the buildings you mentioned. Unfortunately, this is the only approved statement that I am authorized to share," she said about a one-sentence statement that suggested the buildings might be part of the company's proposed sale of some of its Connecticut assets.

Henderson and his union are lobbying state and federal officials to not allow the sale to proceed. He said AT&T should not be able to sell off its legacy land-line phone business, with responsibilities for such infrastructure as telephone poles, and keep other more profitable elements.

Since the company is not inclined to "share" any details about its apparently empty New London buildings, a big part of the city's downtown, or the stalled construction project and closed city street, maybe some of the state's politicians should make them, especially when regulators are considering a proposed sale.

U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro all accepted $3,000 donations from AT&T for the 2014 election reporting period.

I would urge all three to have a chat with union president Henderson about the anti-urban policies of his "arrogant thugs."

The people at AT&T might be good political givers, but they are not treating the people of New London very well.

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

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