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AT&T, Unions Discuss Early Retirement Plan

March 16, 1990

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ AT&T has presented one of its main unions with a plan to sweeten pensions to encourage early retirements, the company’s latest move in a continuing effort to trim its workforce.

The Communications Workers of America had a mixed reaction to the proposal and offered a counter plan, said spokesman Steve Rosenthal, but no details available. Talks were to resume Monday.

AT&T said it held talks Thursday with the CWA and its other main union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, on plans that for the first time would offer early retirement for non-management employees.

Last year, a special retirement plan for managers prompted 12,500 to depart out of 35,000 who were eligible, the company said.

The arrangement added five years to each manager’s age and tenure, and boosted pension payments by 15 percent for five years, or until a retired worker reached 65.

The company had few details about the plan because talks were in an early stage, said company spokesman Burke Stinson at AT&T’s Basking Ridge office. Though AT&T is headquartered in New York, the bulk of its operations are in New Jersey.

The efforts are ″another step in a continuing goal to reduce overhead costs and consolidate operations,″ Stinson said.

Though IBEW spokesman Tom Hickman said he could not comment on the talks, he said the idea of offering enhanced pensions to induce retirements ″is obviously something that we’re not opposed to.″

Probably less than 10,000 people would be affected, said Stuart Crane, an analyst for Gruntal & Co., though he noted it is impossible to predict how many will accept the deal.

″I just think they’re continuously putting the bait in front of the donkey to get him to drive away,″ Crane said.

Crane said it is likely AT&T will continue to try to pare down its workforce through the 1990s.

According to AT&T’s Stinson, the company has steadily reduced its workforce since 1984, when Bell Telephone broke up into regional Baby Bell phone companies.

As AT&T computerizes its operations with new digital and solid state technology, it has increasing numbers of workers with less to do, Stinson said. More switching and operator services are done by computer, and digital equipment has made equipment installation easier.

Also, competition has forced AT&T to pare away extra layers of employees that it could afford when it was a monopoly.

At the time of the break-up, the company had 373,000 employees. They now employ 281,400, 173,500 of whom are non-management.

Last year a total of 25,000 jobs were cut, some through attrition, Stinson said.

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