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Union contracts expire for thousands of AT&T workers; strike averted as talks continue
NEW YORK (AP) ' About 40,000 AT&T landline workers are staying on the job this week without a contract, their union said Sunday.
The workers' contracts expired over the weekend, raising the possibility of a strike. But the Communications Workers of America and AT&T Inc. said that they'll keep working on a new deal.
CWA spokeswoman Candice Johnson said union representatives met with AT&T on Sunday after talks ended late on Saturday. She doesn't know how long it will take to reach an agreement.
"Everyone wants to get this done soon," Johnson said.
The employees, meanwhile, will continue to receive the same wages and benefits as before. If negotiations break down, they still have the option to call for a walkout.
AT&T spokesman Marty Richter also said talks were ongoing. He said earlier that the company has been planning for the possibility for a strike for two years, and managers and vendors will step in to keep service running if there is one.
At issue in the negotiations are job protection clauses and health care premiums and co-payments. AT&T says it wants employees to shoulder more of their growing health care costs and more leeway to downsize its shrinking landline operations. Some of its workers have contracts that guarantee them job offers at different parts of the company if they're laid off.
Union organizers point to the overall financial health of the company, which posted a profit of $4 billion for last year.
Four separate contracts in eastern, Midwestern and Western areas covering some 40,000 workers in total expired.
The workers are on the shrinking local-phone and long-haul data side of the business.
Three years ago, the parties kept talking past the contract expiration, and reached agreements without a strike.
Dallas-based AT&T Inc. is the country's largest employer of unionized workers. About 140,000 of its 256,000 employees are union members.