AT&T shareholders headed to their annual meeting at the Dallas Arboretum this morning enjoyed a cosmopolitan welcoming committee: about 200 red-shirted company employees lining Garland Road, chanting and waving signs.
"Our world NOT delivered," "Retirees are people too" and "Will work for health care" were just a few of the slogans on the signs they carried. Some stood by the road drawing honks from passing cars, while others marched along the Arboretum fence chanting, "Hey, Randall! Health care, Randall!"
Union members on the land line side of Dallas-based AT&T's business have been working without a contract since April 4, and officials with AT&T and the union, Communications Workers of America, agreed that health insurance has been the biggest sticking point since negotiations began six weeks ago.
"Randall" is AT&T's Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson, who's addressing shareholders in Dallas today. One of the bullet points he'll be hitting is the .6 percent revenue drop in its first quarter earnings announced Wednesday.
"We're here to ask the CEO to get us a contract, and get things back to business as usual," said Scott Turner, vice president of his local union chapter in St. Louis, who left work at 5 p.m. yesterday and drove through the night to get here.
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Standing in an Arboretum parking lot full of shareholders' cars, AT&T spokesman Walt Sharp said the contract negotiations were still active, with union reps from Texas and surrounding states meeting in Austin even today.
They problem, he says, is that while the company's earning fell by less than one percentage point last quarter, their land line business is down 27 percent. "That side of the business is deteriorating," he said, naming all the usual suspects -- the kids, their cell phones and the Internet.
"That may be true, but we helped to build the network to get things like wireless and U-verse going," said Ernest Tilley, president of Dallas' Local 6151. Back by the streeet, having just broken from a marching line, Tilley said if revenues were down on his side of the business, it's because AT&T isn't supporting it with new investment. "It's not like we're being pushed out of the way. They're doing it themselves," he said. "They want to make it sound like it's the economy, but this company is not suffering at all."
The group included union members from across the country, though most were from nearby cities including Tulsa and Birmingham. They turned up around 8 a.m. this morning, and most said they'd stick around until about 10:30, before catching flights back home.