(Bloomberg) -- If activist shareholder Elliott Management Corp. has its way, more than 30,000 AT&T Inc. workers could lose their jobs or face reductions in wages, according to a new estimate from the Communications Workers of America union.
Most of the impact on workers would come from divestitures of DirecTV and AT&T’s landline business and closures of the company’s retail locations, if the company follows Elliott’s suggestions, said the CWA, which represents more than 100,000 AT&T employees.
In September, billionaire Paul Singer’s New York hedge fund disclosed a new $3.2 billion position in AT&T, along with a plan to boost the telecom and media giant’s share price by more than 50% through asset sales and cost cutting. The fund hasn’t specifically called for job cuts. AT&T has said it has no plans to dispose of DirecTV, but Elliott could potentially engage in a proxy battle to push its agenda through.
“If Elliott doesn’t get their way, they are going to do a proxy fight on the board, and then any or all of these things could happen,” said Christopher Shelton, president of the CWA. “We can’t leave that to chance, because that’s 30,000 jobs.”
The Teamsters Union said Wednesday that it “stands in solidarity” with the CWA and its members “as they fight back against plans by a vulture capitalist hedge fund that would harm the company’s workers.” The Teamsters represent 1.4 million people.
Elliott and AT&T didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Among the potential cuts the CWA sees:
DirecTV employs about 10,000 workers represented by the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers whose jobs could be at risk if AT&T decides to divest the business, said Nell Geiser, assistant director of research at the CWA. Some of these jobs are at call centers, while others include technicians who do home installations and tech support.The landline business is supported by about 11,000 people whose jobs may be at risk and who work in rural areas in 26 states, the CWA estimated.Were AT&T to match Verizon Communications Inc. in the number of branded stores operated by third-party dealers, rather than by the company, it would close 970 corporate locations, the CWA said. It might close some additional corporate outlets due to geographic redundancy. In total, these moves would eliminate more than 8,500 retail sales workers, according to the CWA.If AT&T sells its operations in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to Liberty Latin America Ltd. as planned, that could affect about 900 union jobs, the CWA said.The estimates don’t include workers who aren’t yet part of a union, “such as the tens of thousands at WarnerMedia,” the CWA said.
These estimates should be taken with a grain of salt. In September, AT&T said DirecTV isn’t for sale, for example. Earlier this month, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren called on AT&T to reject Elliott’s proposal as it would result in loss of jobs.
(Updates with Teamsters comment in fifth paragraph.)
--With assistance from Scott Deveau and Scott Moritz.
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