Wednesday, August 8, 2012

AT&T's Bad Faith

Here in California AT&T landline workers have begun a two-day strike against what the Communications Workers of America calls “harassment” over the negotiation of new contracts. As might be expected, AT&T is claiming that it has been “negotiating in good faith,” at least according to the words of spokesman Marty Richter, documented by Peter Svensson for Associated Press. Richter also claimed that AT&T was “well prepared” (Svensson’s words in the report appearing on Yahoo! News) to handle the work action.

It is hard to assign much credibility to either of Richter’s claims. Contract negotiations have been under way since last February. It is hard to imagine “good faith” making so little progress. As to how well AT&T can manage without those workers, Richter is probably referring to the extent to which the customer-facing side of AT&T has now been automated. These days, if you have a problem, you have to jump through an extraordinary number of automated hoops before getting to talk to a human being; and (no surprise) that human being knows nothing about current local conditions in your area (probably because that person is nowhere near your area). Furthermore, as I recently discovered during a DSL disruption over here, even the human beings are script-driven for just about everything other than creating an appointment for a technician to visit your site.

AT&T has become the model example of how “knowledge technology” can turn a mediocre service provider into a thoroughly stupid one. For those who think that problems in the landline business are no longer irrelevant, because everything that matters now happens in wireless world, just remember that the problem is one of the service itself, rather than the objects over which that service is exercised. If AT&T is now facing worker resistance, it is because they are trying to run their business without people; and that is the only “faith” they hold.

The bottom line is that inadequate regulation of the communications business has led to work situations as pathological as those in the financial sector. Unfortunately, those of us on the receiving end have no say in the matter. Just like its cousins on Wall Street, AT&T sees itself as accountable only to its shareholders. All others be damned.

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