Memphis, Tenn. -- AT&T workers and other members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union will hold a socially distanced protest as part of the national Strike for Black Lives Monday afternoon outside an AT&T Mobility Call Center in Memphis, Tenn. The AT&T call center workers will be joined by their colleagues from the AT&T Mobility warehouse and retail stores in Memphis, along with other local union members and community groups.
The Strike for Black Lives is a nationwide day of action of tens of thousands in more than 25 cities who are demanding corporations and government take action to confront systemic racism in our society, economy and workplaces that is holding back Black and brown communities.
Monday’s protest comes amid a wave of statements in support of the “Black Lives Matter” movement from some of the country’s largest corporations, including AT&T. In response, frontline workers, who typically experience and are exposed to discrimination and racism in the workplace at higher volumes, are calling out these companies for failing to address workplace policies and practices that negatively impact Black employees and perpetuate structural racism.
“At CWA, we know that statements in support of our Black colleagues and Black lives are not enough to dismantle the centuries of racism that have shaped our society and our workplaces,” said Communications Workers of America President Chris Shelton. “We are taking real action, educating all of our members on the importance of this movement and the harsh realities that so many of their Black co-workers face each and every day, and demanding the same from our employers. As this pandemic continues to disproportionately affect our Black colleagues and other communities of color, we are ensuring all members understand that an injury to one is an injury to all.”
AT&T’s Memphis facilities provide clear examples of how the company has failed to act to support Black workers and protect their health and safety. At the Memphis call center, which employs a disproportionately Black and female workforce, AT&T did not agree to CWA’s request for virtual instruction until ten out of twenty new hires who were participating in training tested positive for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, at the Memphis warehouse, a location with a majority Black workforce and the site of a racist incident in 2017 involving a noose, a worker whose job duties require frequent contact with other employees tested positive for COVID-19. The employee reported the positive test to AT&T but other employees were not informed until 7 days later. Non-janitorial employees who have expressed concerns to AT&T managers about cleanliness on high-touch surfaces have been told that they should clean these areas themselves.
“Our actions here in Memphis are part of a much larger movement to ensure that Black workers are supported and uplifted on the job at AT&T and everywhere else,” said Randall LaPlante, and Executive Board member of CWA Local 3806 in Memphis, Tenn. “AT&T continues to spend thousands on ads that portray it as a leader supporting the movement despite its failure to institute policies that protect Black workers. Their lack of action is a disgrace, and we’re here to expose the company for its hypocrisy and demand better from leadership.”
In support of its BIPOC members and all workers of color nationwide, CWA has been ramping up actions to educate its members on systemic racism and build an anti-racist union. The union’s recent actions include a national work stoppage of 8:46 seconds on June 11 to recognize the brutal murder of George Floyd, a livestream event on Juneteenth celebrating Black workers and educating members on the relationship between economic and racial justice, and a new series of trainings on building an anti-racist union which began the last week of June.