There’s a slight chill in the usually warm relationship between Sen. Al Franken and organized labor. Despite months of lobbying, at a meeting Wednesday night with labor leaders, Franken reiterated his opposition to one their key issues: support for the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile.
In an interview prior to the meeting, Franken said that despite the unions’ backing, he remains opposed to the merger on the grounds that it will concentrate too much market share and result in higher cell phone rates. “I am very suspicious of consolidation of power,” he said.
Franken’s views carry weight. He sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will influence the merger based on anti-trust considerations. He’s offered opinions on other issues involving the communications industry, most notably opposition to the Comcast-NBC merger.
It’s not like unions aren’t trying mightily to change his mind. They’ve sent letters. They’ve written opinion articles. They’ve had one-on-one meetings with Franken and numerous phone conversations. They offer compelling arguments, noting that the merger would be an opportunity to add as many as 20,000 jobs to the union ranks.
“As a company AT&T has allowed its employees to organize without interference,” wrote Mona Meyer, president of the Minnesota chapter of the Communications Workers of America in a Community Voices column in MinnPost. “AT&T is committed to continue this approach toward labor organization if and when the merger is approved.”
Reasons for opposition
Franken, though expressing sympathy for the unions’ position (“I totally understand their point of view”), ticked off rebuttals to the merger’s upside. “We know from their documents that some of their [AT&T’s] claims on jobs may not be accurate,” he said.
While the CWA, joined by the AFL-CIO, has argued that the new company will improve service, Franken firmly disagrees. “T-Mobile would be subsumed by AT&T,” he said, with the most direct result being higher cell-phone rates. And he dismisses the unions’ argument that the merger will achieve nearly 100 percent of Minnesota’s goals for broadband Internet access. “Completely inaccurate” is how Franken describes AT&T’s claim.
Still, the unions and Franken are walking on eggshells as they discuss the disagreement. “He struggled,” said Brad Lehto, chief of staff of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, in describing Franken’s comments at Wednesday night’s meeting. “He said it was a very difficult decision because generally he agrees with us.”
‘I represent all people’
“I do understand their position. If I were them, I would have the same opinion,” is Franken’s response. But, Franken said, “I represent all people in Minnesota. I believe in the labor movement but that doesn’t mean that I don’t consider everyone in Minnesota and this is such an important part of our economy.”
The two sides, predictably, also disagree on whether the merger ultimately gets approval. The unions, which have rounded up support from dozens of lawmakers, including 4th District Congresswoman Betty McCollum, predict the merger gets the thumbs up from the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission.
Franken says he’s been taking the temperature of regulators. “This is horizontal concentration and an even clearer case of anti-trust violation” than the Comcast NBC Universal merger, he said. While not making a prediction, Franken said he believes the merger will not pass Department of Justice scrutiny.