Over the past several years, working Americans have struggled through one of the worst economic downturns in more than 80 years. Aside from the tens of thousands who lost jobs, many more saw reductions in salary and benefits, which, as a result, created significant financial uncertainty throughout the middle class. Ironically, rather than holding those on Wall Street accountable for their actions, many states — including our neighbors in Wisconsin — instead sought to strip workers of their basic rights to organize and bargain collectively.
As the president of the Communications Workers of America Minnesota State Council, I’ve been extraordinarily disappointed by this turn of events. In my capacity with CWA, I help represent 10,130 active and retired employees around our state who work hard every day to support their families, play by the rules, and in return expect to be treated fairly. My union and countless others in the state exist to do just that. We fight to ensure front-line workers receive a living wage, reasonable benefits and a meaningful voice with their employers.
Not all employees have this sort of representation, and that’s one of the reasons I strongly support the merger between AT&T and T-Mobile. As a company, AT&T has allowed its employees to organize without interference and, as a result, they have voluntarily chosen to be represented by CWA. AT&T is committed to continue this approach toward labor organization if and when the merger is approved. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for other major wireless providers.
However, that all stands to change if the merger is approved. With the tremendous economic uncertainty in our country today, providing workers with additional and reasonable protections is a critical step in rebuilding the middle class. This is why CWA, the AFL-CIO, the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, Teamsters, ATU, SEIU, and UFCW have all stepped forward and endorsed the merger between AT&T and T-Mobile.
More broadly, the merger will also provide significant and meaningful benefits to consumers throughout Minnesota and the country. Access to the Internet is becoming a central economic development issue. More and more, individuals, families and businesses are using these services on a regular basis virtually every day. However, significant gaps still exist, especially in rural and traditionally underserved communities. The result is a “digital divide” that significantly reduces the economic opportunities of those living with limited or no access.
Through the merger and AT&T’s commitment to invest $8 billion to improve its wireless infrastructure, hundreds of millions of Americans will gain access to 4G LTE technology. The technology will be available to more than 97 percent of the country’s population. For those living in rural communities, this is potentially transformative. The simple reality is that in the future businesses are unlikely to locate in towns or communities without strong wireless and broadband access. The merger between AT&T and T-Mobile is a critical step toward ensuring universal access for all Americans.
The question now is where do we go from here? Fortunately for Minnesota, both Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken are critical voices in determining whether the merger moves forward. In my role as president of the CWA Minnesota State Council, and as a private citizen, I hope both senators will offer their support.
Mona Meyer is the president of the Minnesota State Council of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).