Thousands of AT&T technicians and call center workers at more than 100 sites in California and Nevada walked off the job Friday to protest what a union spokesman called an "insulting" memo from an AT&T vice president.

The Communications Workers of America said "thousands" joined the protest, which comes during negotiations of a contract that expired in April. Workers in Oakland carried picket signs protesting the AT&T vice president who they said wrote the memo.

The company said the walkout did not interrupt service to customers.

Workers will be back on the job on their next scheduled shift, which for most will be Monday, said Libby Sayre, area director for CWA District 9, which covers 18,000 AT&T workers in California and Nevada.

In the memo, which was obtained by this paper, AT&T Vice President Betsy Farrell complained that recent "union activity has caused some of you to make a choice not to serve our customers. Given comments I have heard from many of you regarding the importance of providing good customer service, I'm a bit puzzled about why you would leave customers without service we committed we would provide them.

"The company doesn't suffer. In fact, these actions help us financially when we don't pay you."

AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said the company had no comment on the memo.

Negotiations are continuing, he said. "It's never an easy process, but we have a good relationship with the union and are really committed to providing a contract that's going to continue to provide high-quality middle-class careers for our employees."


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The company and the union disputed what workers are currently paid.

Richter said network technicians make $90,000 a year in wages, and $43,000 in benefits. Call center representatives are paid $67,000 in wages and $40,000 in benefits, he said.

CWA's Sayre disagreed. She said top pay for the longest-term technicians is $260 a day or $32 an hour, which comes to $64,000 a year. "I don't know how he can get them to these astronomical numbers. Nobody is getting rich other than AT&T management."

She said call center workers generally make less than technicians.

Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419.