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Contracts expire for many at AT&T, talks continue

FILE - This July 19, 2010, file photo, shows the AT&T logo displayed on the side of a corporate office in Springfield, Ill. Union contracts for thousands of AT&T workers in America expired at midnight but officials said Sunday, April 8, 2012, that talks continued. The passage of the deadline left the Communications Workers of America free to call a strike, but spokeswoman Candice Johnson says employees would report for work without a contract. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Union contracts for 40,000 AT&T workers expired at midnight, but a strike was averted as officials said early Sunday that talks were continuing.

Though passage of the deadline left the Communications Workers of America free to call a strike, spokeswoman Candice Johnson says employees would report for work without a contract. But she says that could change at any time.

Four separate contracts in eastern, Midwestern and Western areas covering some 40,000 workers in total expired.

At issue in the negotiations are job protection clauses and health care premiums and co-payments.

The workers are on the shrinking local-phone and long-haul data side of the business.

Three 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.