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AT&T Faces 40,000-Worker Walkout After Union Votes For Strike

By Greg Bensinger Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- AT&T Inc. (T) could see 40,000 wireline employees walk off the job Sunday morning if the union can't reach an agreement with the telecommunications giant for a new contract. Members of the Communications Workers of America voted over the weekend to give authority to CWA President Larry Cohen to call a strike after the contract expires on April 7. CWA members staged a two-week strike against Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) in August and have yet to reach an accord with the New York-based company. AT&T is seeking increases in workers' health care premiums and co-pays, pension cuts and other benefits changes, according to the union. "Everything leads me to believe that we're in the same position today with AT&T that we were with Verizon last year," said Chuck Simpson, president of CWA Local 2204 in Salem, Va. "Like so many companies, they want to shift more costs to the employees." On AT&T's website, the company said employees' medical costs rose 54% from 2004 to 2010 and 8% in 2010 alone. "AT&T seeks to reach fair agreements with our union partners that enable a competitive cost structure reflecting current market realities," AT&T said on the site. An AT&T spokesman said he didn't have further comment. A CWA spokeswoman said a strike-authorization vote is no guarantee a strike will be called. The union or AT&T could seek to extend the existing contract while talks continue, she said. AT&T's wireline unit reported its operating income plunged 7.2% to $7.3 billion last year, as operating revenue declined 2.5% to $59.8 billion. More customers are canceling traditional home-telephone service in favor of mobile phones, helping AT&T drive profits for its fast-growing wireless division. An additional 30,000 wireline workers represented by the CWA and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have contracts expiring on June 23 and Aug. 4, according to AT&T. -By Greg Bensinger, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-4676; greg.bensinger@dowjones.com

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