Stronger union could be key in AT&T merger

 

AT&T’s $49 billion plan to buy DirecTV could strengthen the company’s union, a move that is getting Democratic nods of approval on Capitol Hill.

“This transaction presents substantial opportunities for labor standards,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said in a hearing on the planned merger on Tuesday. “I know everybody doesn’t agree that that is something that is worthy, but I think that is very worthwhile.”

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“Given the television industry’s famous reputation for opposing organized labor, this merger would have transformational benefit for thousands of employees in this industry, giving labor a strong foothold in the industry,” added Johnson, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust.

AT&T currently has the largest full-time, private union in the United States with 41,000 members. If regulators allow the phone and Internet company to buy DirecTV, that option would extend to the satellite TV firm's 16,000 employees.

“We have a long history of working with our union members and collective bargaining,” AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson told lawmakers on Tuesday.

“So with DirecTV, you should assume that DirecTV employees will be offered that same option to collectively bargain or not," he said. "That will be their choice.”

AT&T’s commitment on organized labor could win over some Democrats who might otherwise be skeptical about the growing trend of consolidation in the telecommunications industry. In 2012, 54 percent of the company's workforce was unionized.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) also praised AT&T for its acceptance of unions.

"I commend you for that and for demonstrating that you’ve been able to be an incredibly successful company with that workforce composition," he said.

On top of AT&T and DirecTV, Comcast is also hoping regulators will approve its plans to buy Time Warner Cable, and Sprint is rumored to be considering a bid to purchase T-Mobile. That has caused concern from consumer interest advocates who fear that consumers will get strong armed by a small group of powerful companies.  

Already, however, the deal has won high praise from the telecommunications workers’ union, the Communications Workers of America.

In a statement earlier this month, the union said that the deal “can provide real benefits to workers and consumers.”

“The merged company will provide employment opportunities for tens of thousands of employees at both companies,” it added. “AT&T respects the right of employees to make their own choice about union representation.”