March 23 (UPI) -- About 17,000 unionized AT&T technicians in Nevada and California were back to work Thursday after striking over benefits cutbacks, hiring reductions and work assignments.
They walked off the job after AT&T changed some work assignments for technicians and call centers. The union said it was concerned over workers performing duties of higher-paid employees, reductions in sick leave and disability benefits, an increase in out-of-pocket health care costs and closures of AT&T call centers in the United States.
AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said the two sides reached an agreement after talks Wednesday.
"We engaged in discussion with the union to get these employees back to work as soon as possible," Richter said.
The members of the AT&T West District local set up picket lines outside AT&T offices and call centers across both states.
The union called it a "grievance strike."
"This same issue has been a subject at the bargaining table for months and the company has recently made a unilateral change in job requirements without the agreement of the union," the local posted on Facebook. "The union has tried to resolve this issue with the company over several days. Locals will continue to be on strike until a satisfactory settlement can be reached."
The employees' contract expired on April 9. Last week the union said AT&T has refused to "bargain fairly."
AT&T has cut thousands of positions involving the landline phones. The CWA says the company has moved 8,000 call center positions, including those in a closed call center in Anaheim, Calif., to other countries.
The union said the walkout started over AT&T's insistence that premise technicians, who install and maintain the company's U-Verse television service, also service its landline phone service equipment. Sheila Bordeaux of CWA Local 9003 in Los Angeles said, "They are unilaterally and continually changing the job duties of our premise technicians to do a higher-wage job at a lower rate of pay."
Elected officials in both states sent a letter to AT&T CEO Randall Stephensen said the company is "harming communities by cutting thousands of good, middle-class jobs." The letter also said AT&T is delaying promises to provide high-speed Internet in rural communities in California and Nevada.
"AT&T made more than $16 billion in profits last year, paid out $46 million to its top executives and spent billions on costly mergers, but it's attempting to move good quality jobs out of California and Nevada," the letter said. "Workers are standing up for their communities."
The last strike at the company was in 2012 for two days.
AT&T has made 28 straight deals with its unions, covering 123,000 workers, since 2015. The most recent deal was in the Southwest earlier this month.
"A walkout is not in anybody's best interest and it's unfortunate that the union chose to do that," an AT&T spokesman Steve Maviglo to The Mercury News. "We're engaged in discussion with the union to get these employees back to work as soon as possible."
Maviglo said workers are highly paid.
"The average AT&T core network technician in this contract makes nearly $150,000 in wages and benefits," Maviglio said. "We are not proposing to reduce the wages of any employees in these contracts, and we remain committed to providing great benefits.
"We're the country's largest employer of full-time union labor, and our goal in these negotiations is to continue to provide our employees with high-quality union careers with wages and benefits that are among the best in the country."
The strike did not include workers in wireless areas.
The company is in competition with Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon in its largest business, wireless phone service, and is under pressure to control costs. The strike comes as AT&T seeks regulatory approval for an $85 billion takeover of Time Warner Inc.