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CWA BLASTS AT&T MOVE TO REPLACE OPERATORS WITH 'ROBOT' TECHNOLOGY; UNION EXPECTS LOSS OF THOUSANDS OF JOBS

CWA BLASTS AT&T MOVE TO REPLACE OPERATORS WITH 'ROBOT' TECHNOLOGY;
 UNION EXPECTS LOSS OF THOUSANDS OF JOBS
 WASHINGTON, March 4 /PRNewswire/ -- "We are outraged by AT&T's move to replace thousands of telephone operators with a new voice robotic technology, and by their unbelievable disrespect of our union in handling these layoffs," Communications Workers of America President Morton Bahr said yesterday.
 "AT&T's decision to announce layoffs of initially 4- to 6- thousand people, and closings of 31 offices around the country, four weeks before contract talks begin, is the worst intimidation tactic we have ever seen.
 "But our members won't be intimidated," Bahr said. "AT&T workers are angry and fed up with years of abuse and are mobilizing to fight back."
 AT&T has leaked word to operator services offices around the country that they would begin to implement a new technology that would replace human operators with "voice recognition call processing." The new technology could ultimately replace half of the 17,000 AT&T operators.
 "We are completely disgusted with AT&T's behavior on this matter," said James Irvine, CWA vice president for AT&T units. "The managers have been calling workers into their offices telling them that layoffs and closings would be announced on March 4, and alarming people in offices that won't even be affected. And all of this was done before the company met with the union to explain their plans. They want to publicly say that the union is working cooperatively on this, but they are sneaking around, stabbing us in the back, and intimidating union members. We still do not have concrete details about who will be affected, and when," Irvine stated.
 "The timing of this decision is incredible," Irvine said. "AT&T has been experimenting with this technology for over a year. Bob Allen, AT&T's chairman, made a promise to the union from the podium at last year's shareholder meeting that this technology would not be deployed until we were notified, and until the customers were 'delighted' with it. Yet they have decided to go forward weeks before their testing and research is completed. There is no other reason to announce this technology except to strike fear in the hearts of AT&T workers, and to intimidate them during bargaining. This is absolutely unconscionable."
 "AT&T customers have a right to expect quality service, yet it takes people to provide that service," said CWA President Bahr. "One competitive advantage that AT&T has is its operator services. People don't like to talk to a machine when they need assistance, and only a person can really provide the help that they need, and the help that their phone bills have paid for.
 "People will have to be routed through a maze of frustrating commands before they can get the help they need. AT&T's robots will provide inferior service with no break in prices for customers," Bahr continued.
 "AT&T has cut their front-line workforce well past the fat, past the meat, and now they're down to the bare bones and still cutting. We've lost over 100,000 jobs since divestiture in 1984, with no end in sight. If management refuses to listen to the union, maybe they'll start listening to the customers who are saying you can't run a service business without the people who provide the service."
 CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers begin contract negotiations with AT&T on Monday, March 30, 1992, for 127,000 union-represented workers nationwide. CWA had previously announced that job security and union recognition in the presently non-union sectors of AT&T would be the top priority in bargaining.
 "AT&T has chosen to replace thousands of people with robots in the middle of our worst recession in decades," Bahr charged.
 "When major corporations such as IBM and General Motors announced plans for layoffs in recent months, CWA called upon AT&T Chairman Bob Allen to set an example for corporate America and announce an end to layoffs at AT&T," Bahr stated. "Many companies are taking advantage of the climate of the recession to make layoffs that are by no means necessary to their economic strength, but solely to increase short- term profits. Only if successful corporations like AT&T forgo the temptation to cut jobs just because 'everybody's doing it' will we see an end to America's economic downturn.
 "Consumer confidence is at an all-time low, because most people fear that they themselves, or their loved ones, will be the victim of a layoff," Bahr said. "AT&T's decision to replace operators with robots -- right before they begin to bargain for a new contract -- justifies those fears. Moreover, people will be forced to watch robots do their jobs while they wonder how to put food on their tables. This is the ultimate in heartless, senseless management, and this kind of attitude must end if America is to regain its economic strength and security."
 In 1992, CWA will negotiate new contracts for some 384,000 telecommunications workers at AT&T, General Telephone Company, and six of the Regional Bell Operating Companies.
 CWA represents over 600,000 workers in telecommunications, printing, publishing, media, health care and the public sector in the United States and Canada.
 -0- 3/4/92 R
 /CONTACT: Jeff Miller or Gaye Williams Mack of the Communications Workers of America, 202-434-1172/ CO: Communications Workers of America; AT&T ST: District of Columbia IN: TLS SU:


DC -- DC002 -- 4936 03/04/92 11:49 EST
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Date:Mar 4, 1992
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