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WSJ: Inside AT&T's Strike Boot Camp
Old 04-05-2012, 11:26 AM   #1
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WSJ: Inside AT&T's Strike Boot Camp

Has anyone read this article, AT&T Managers Garner Union Skills in Preparation for Strike - WSJ.com? It's about how AT&T's managers are getting contingency planning training for a possible strike on Sunday. I found the story quite amusing, and here are just a couple of excerpts. I'm wondering if anyone has the similar stories from the past and is willing to share at here.

Quote:
A behind-the-scenes look at AT&T's strike-training sessions, however, shows that preparing managers to fill in for experienced union workers isn't as simple as it sounds.
"After a week of training, the only thing I have retained is how to add adult programming," said account executive Frank Ventrella, in a Facebook entry about his grasp of AT&T's video service. In the event of a strike, he joked, "there is a very good chance I am adding porn to your account."
Quote:
For some managers, the training is a welcome distraction from the monotony of corporate life. For others, it is a demeaning waste of time—often requiring evening and weekend hours for no extra pay.
In 2009, the last time AT&T had a major strike-duty training effort, the head of its elite labs division emailed a letter of apology to his researchers, who chafed at having to click through "tens of hours" of online tutorials on such topics as "how to use a chain saw," said people who received the email.
The email from Keith Cambron, the division's president and chief executive at the time, acknowledged the stress the training caused the researchers and their families, these people said.
"My colleagues who had to go for training were frustrated that we had studied for engineering and had Ph.D.s and at least master's degrees, and they were asked to go and climb poles," said Prafull Mehta, a former director at AT&T Labs.
Quote:
The strike-duty trainees take quizzes at the end of each module, ranging from multiple-choice questions on how to diagnose equipment problems to fill-in-the-blank diagrams describing how a telephone signal is transmitted, current and former employees said. One manager said he has more than 20 pages of handwritten notes on "brightly colored yellow paper" to help him memorize scores of acronyms from the first module out of the six that he needs to complete.
In 2009, seeking an added buffer against a possible strike, AT&T temporarily hired friends and family of managers, as well as retirees and managers the company had recently laid off. "Lots of times, I felt really stupid," said Garth Pellet, a 64-year-old retiree who was called back to duty that year. Much of the initial training for his assignment as a telephone lineman involved deciphering "telephonese," he said. He learned, for instance, that "1FR/PIC 10288" meant "one flat-rated telephone, for which the primary carrier is AT&T."
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Old 04-05-2012, 05:03 PM   #2
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I worked for a megacorp that decided in the early 90's that it had enough from the UAW and locked all of the UAW members out of their midwest factories after the union rejected their last contract offer and started a pattern of short strikes at targeted component factories. Several months (maybe a year) later, the UAW accepted the contract that the company had offered at the start of the strike. During this time, all managers worked on the line until they were replaced by "temporary" replacement workers. This typically took 3-4 months.

During this time, vacations were cancelled for all management employees unless they had made non-refundable payments. Some of the managers kicked a bit about working long hours in the factory when they'd gone to school to avoid this. It was explained to them that whatever else they were doing wasn't as important as keeping the line going.

After this experience, the company approached each contract negotiation with a very public skill inventory and management training program to ensure that every union job was covered. Managers would "shadow" every union worker for a day or two to see the details of his job. The message to the union was that the company was ready, willing, and able to replace them within a day and keep the factory going if they decided to strike. There hasn't been a strike at that company since 98.
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Old 04-06-2012, 06:39 AM   #3
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Thanks for sharing, Tractor guy. For the megacorps I have worked for, there was no union (allowed?). So personally I have no any direct experience of strike. For this particular case of AT&T, I guess they got to do what they have to do just in order to keep their service uninterrupted as much as they can. It's a costly proposition for both sides, and I have some doubt in how long they can hold on without blinking.
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Old 04-06-2012, 09:56 AM   #4
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Been there done that (pole climbing/installer school). To add insult to injury the class I attended ran from 7:00 PM at night until 6:00 AM the next day, and then I would go back to my office job after getting a couple of hours sleep. If you don't like heights its not for you, but it was difficult to opt out without a Dr's note.
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Old 04-06-2012, 10:08 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tractor guy View Post
I worked for a megacorp that decided in the early 90's that it had enough from the UAW and locked all of the UAW members out of their midwest factories after the union rejected their last contract offer and started a pattern of short strikes at targeted component factories. Several months (maybe a year) later, the UAW accepted the contract that the company had offered at the start of the strike. During this time, all managers worked on the line until they were replaced by "temporary" replacement workers. This typically took 3-4 months.

During this time, vacations were cancelled for all management employees unless they had made non-refundable payments. Some of the managers kicked a bit about working long hours in the factory when they'd gone to school to avoid this. It was explained to them that whatever else they were doing wasn't as important as keeping the line going.

After this experience, the company approached each contract negotiation with a very public skill inventory and management training program to ensure that every union job was covered. Managers would "shadow" every union worker for a day or two to see the details of his job. The message to the union was that the company was ready, willing, and able to replace them within a day and keep the factory going if they decided to strike. There hasn't been a strike at that company since 98.
Same story with me (automotive production/assembly & UAW combo), from which I retired in 2007, with just under 30 years of service.

Our last strike was in the late 80's. Part of that was production moved to another UAW plant (different local) but our company was bought out by a bigger, global concern who had no qualms to move production around to a unit that was not on strike. To a lesser degree, the UAW also found that managment was not willing to be "threatened" as in the past.

Funny thing is that the "quantity" of product was lower (due to having much lower white collar / management folks to do the work), but the "quality" was higher, based upon subsequent warranty claims against the "management built units".

Not to take anything away from the UAW. My wage (as white collar - non-management) would have not been as much without their support for higher wages, within their organization. It's just that they don't necessarily have the "upper hand", as their "salad days" of the 50's-60's.
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Old 04-06-2012, 11:19 AM   #6
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When was the last time there actually was a strike against AT&T? 2006 or so? Didnt' that last only a few days?

I've heard that for some (the managers that go on strike duty) it is like a mini-vacation--sitting around, doing pretty much nothing. For others, it's brutal, long hours, might have a slave-driver strike boss, being called a scab by picketers an inch from your face.
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Old 04-06-2012, 12:24 PM   #7
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Funny thing is that the "quantity" of product was lower (due to having much lower white collar / management folks to do the work), but the "quality" was higher, based upon subsequent warranty claims against the "management built units".
This is indeed an interesting observation. I think the biggest challenge for any organization is to recruit, train and retain the real professionals at all levels who know exactly what their limits are and in the meantime can still be motivated and diligent to deliver their work with excellent quality. Unfortunately, for a lot of megacorps in these days, these core forces will be the first round of loss under the new reorganization or business realignment initiative under the new management, through either voluntary separation or forced out.
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Old 04-06-2012, 03:55 PM   #8
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Back when I was working (a long time ago) AT&T would promote many of their operations managers from the union technical workforce so that they had the skills necessary to fill in during a strike. Maybe that has changed.

It was always funny seeing former white collar guys wearing a tool belt.
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Old 04-07-2012, 09:10 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by easysurfer View Post
When was the last time there actually was a strike against AT&T? 2006 or so? Didnt' that last only a few days?

I've heard that for some (the managers that go on strike duty) it is like a mini-vacation--sitting around, doing pretty much nothing. For others, it's brutal, long hours, might have a slave-driver strike boss, being called a scab by picketers an inch from your face.
I was with the other big phone company, so don't recall when the last ATT strike took place.

Regarding the mini-vacation comment, I would say that would depend on what type of strike assignment you got. Some were lucky enough to get security, where they rode around all day with video cameras looking to catch union saboteurs in the act of damaging infrastructure. Other assignments like installations were hardly mini-vacations for those that were mgmt their entire careers and also it was likely you would get a strike assignment far from your normal home base. At least for me, the training that went on all night long for a few weeks was no picnic.
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Old 04-09-2012, 10:02 AM   #10
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Looks like both sides are playing chicken at the moment:

At&T extends union talks, avoids strike - MarketWatch

To see who gives in first as a strike is probably no fun for both sides.
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Old 04-09-2012, 10:10 AM   #11
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Regarding the mini-vacation comment, I would say that would depend on what type of strike assignment you got.
As a white-collar guy during a strike, let's just say I "busted my a**" to get the product out.

There was no "vacation" at all ...
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Old 04-09-2012, 11:14 AM   #12
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Quote:
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I was with the other big phone company, so don't recall when the last ATT strike took place.

Regarding the mini-vacation comment, I would say that would depend on what type of strike assignment you got. Some were lucky enough to get security, where they rode around all day with video cameras looking to catch union saboteurs in the act of damaging infrastructure. Other assignments like installations were hardly mini-vacations for those that were mgmt their entire careers and also it was likely you would get a strike assignment far from your normal home base. At least for me, the training that went on all night long for a few weeks was no picnic.
Me too, the other Ma Bell. I've had to climb poles, go down manholes, process payrolls, and open payment envelopes. Over the years I mostly got good at being critical in my daily position so I didn't have to go out on strike duty. The most interesting part of the strikes were the upper management types that got assigned customer service rep jobs where they had to ask permission of people 2-3 levels lower than them to go to the bathroom.

Strikes were seldom a vacation, although I knew one guy who had the assignment of collecting the quarters from the payphones along the boardwalk in Ocean City. That one didn't suck. Mostly I felt bad because I was usually on the union people's side, but had to work or lose my job. I don't know if it's true, but I heard many times that the company liked the strikes because their profit margins were higher while they went on. But I also know many management types that caused some fairly serious issues due to lack of training and knowledge. Worst I ever did was cause a few people to get paid twice for the same week. Then they had to give the money back.
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