AT&T Union Files Complaint to Force Tax Windfall Plan Disclosure

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(Bloomberg) -- A union representing AT&T Inc. employees filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the telecom giant of illegally withholding information about how it plans to spend its windfall from President Donald Trump’s tax overhaul.

The Communications Workers of America, which is currently in negotiations over contracts covering 14,000 AT&T employees, said in a complaint filed Friday that the company is violating the federal labor law that requires firms to provide the unions that represent their staff with information germane to collective bargaining. The union alleges that the company “has frustrated the bargaining process” by refusing to provide the data, according to the complaint, which was obtained by Bloomberg News.

The Republican tax revamp slashed the corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent, handing billions of dollars in tax savings to U.S. companies. With the benefit of a lower corporate tax rate, AT&T said in January it expects free cash flow this year to rise by $3.4 billion to $21 billion.

While Republicans have cited employee bonuses granted by firms including AT&T as evidence of the tax bill’s broad benefits, Democrats have countered that any perks for working class paychecks amount to “crumbs” when compared to the benefits for big corporations.

AT&T is one of about a dozen companies, including XPO Logistics Inc. and subsidiaries of American Airlines Group Inc. and PepsiCo Inc., where unions representing employees have filed formal requests for disclosure of what estimated gains from the tax revamp will be, how much of that money will go to stock buybacks, how much capital investment will result in the U.S. and outside of it, and how many jobs for U.S. workers will be created or brought back from abroad. The unions have said that they may file complaints with the NLRB if the companies don’t comply.

‘Promised Commitments’

AT&T said in a statement that it was working to reach a fair contract deal with CWA. “We have never bargained tax policy or tax planning with the union,” the company said.

The company added that “with tax reform in mind,” it had devoted $200 million to bonuses for front-line staff, $800 million to its medical trust for current and former employees, and almost $100 million to its charitable foundation, and that it plans to invest another $1 billion this year in the U.S.

AT&T’s public pledges about increased investment thanks to the tax overhaul have heightened the salience of the requested information, said CWA attorney Jennifer Abruzzo, a former acting general counsel of the NLRB. “We want to ensure that the promised commitments are incorporated into the collective bargaining agreement, and we need to respond intelligently to their claims,” she said.

In a March letter responding to the tax information request, AT&T’s Midwest labor relations vice president Randall White told the union that it was seeking “immaterial” information.

Potential Strike

The Labor Board filing comes at a fraught moment in AT&T employee negotiations. Workers voted in April to authorize a potential strike, and the national union’s executive board last week voted to give its president, Chris Shelton, the green-light to authorize a walkout. The union has seized on call center closures and job cuts at AT&T, and sought to intensify the scrutiny on the company’s past payments to Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

AT&T has said that it has cooperated fully with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, that Cohen’s firm did “actual work” that was not lobbying, and that retaining him was a mistake. AT&T said that authorizing a strike isn’t an unexpected move during contract talks, and that it was preparing for all contingencies.

Before the tax law was signed in December, AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson said last May that every $1 billion of new capital investment resulting from a potential tax overhaul would spur the creation of 7,000 jobs.

“Lower taxes drives more investment, drives more hiring, drives greater wages,” he said on CNBC. If the 35 percent corporate tax rate was brought down to 25 or 20 percent, he said, “to think that wouldn’t cause additional investment is nonsensical. I know exactly what AT&T would do: We would invest more.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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