Updated June 11, 2004









U.S. Workers Outraged Over Outsourcing

Media Misses The Message; Unions Strike Over Job Loss


By Mark Anderson


The mainstream media portrayed a telecommunications strike spanning 13 states as an issue of concerns over health care and job security. How ever, union representatives and workers told AFP that the outsourcing of American jobs to other countries was at the center of their grievance.

The strike, involving 100,000 SBC communications workers, started on May 21 in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Illinois, Connecticut, Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, California and Nevada.

Since then, a tentative contract settlement has been reached, and the details are being worked out. Ballots will go out to union members around June 11, with a proposed pact to be ratified by a vote of union members in late June. The results are expected to be announced on July 1.

During the strike, signs carried by some of the strikers specified “outsourcing” as a key concern, along with worries about preserving health care benefits in the face of what union representatives called “substantial cost-shifting demands by SBC management.”

In contrast, reporting of the strike by CBS radio, as well as other major broadcast outlets and elements of the print media, left the average reader/listener with the impression that it was a typical gripe about health benefits and pay. Even though there were some brief references to job security and outsourcing, there was little elaboration and overall coverage missed the most important issue.

But in these jittery times—when a University of Berkeley study predicts that some 12 million hi-tech, manufacturing and other types of U.S. jobs will go overseas by 2015—the union’s concerns were outside the context the big media regularly uses to falsely frame issues of this kind.

Brian K. Strawser of Buchanan, Mich., president of Local 4032 of the Communication Workers of America (CWA), told AFP that the dominant media was ignoring workers’ concerns about their jobs being eliminated via “outsourcing” to overseas cheap-labor havens.

“We were kind of upset about that,” said Strawser, adding that 29,000 unionized SBC jobs have been eliminated over the last three years. Many of them have been outsourced to India and the Philippines. By his reckoning, 8 out of 10 technical-support calls for digital subscriber lines, a high-speed Internet connection, on SBC’s phone lines are now answered in India.


SBC owns the lines used by Sprint, MCI and many other phone-service providers. As the second-largest telecom company in the United States, it earned $8.5 billion in profits last year. Its board of directors was reportedly so pleased that top executives such as CEO Ed Whitacre were given huge pay increases. His salary increased by 93 percent and his 2003 compensation was a tidy $19.3 million.

Union employees at SBC say they want guarantees of upward mobility. A May 19 CWA news release noted that CWA members were seeking access to new-growth jobs in Internet data services and installation of wi-fi (wireless Internet) hot spots, voice over the Internet, DSL broadband and other areas.

“Virtually all of this SBC work, amounting to thousands of jobs, is being outsourced, including going offshore to countries such as India and the Philippines,” warned the news release.

“What does leadership mean for one of America’s largest companies?” the union asked during the strike. “Does it mean working to keep American jobs or contracting customer service out to India? Does it mean working with us to resolve the national health care crisis or cutting health care for employees and retirees? Isn’t it time someone in corporate America stood by their workers?”

Writer Tom Piatak believes the idea of corporate America standing by its workers is in short supply.

Writing in the journal, Chronicles, Piatak noted that a Hewlett-Packard CEO had declared, “there is no job that is America’s God-given right anymore.”

Piatak thinks the CEO’s “blunt declaration that patriotism has no place in the boardroom,” perfectly captures the logic behind outsourcing.

Meanwhile, Greg Mankiw, a top Bush administration economic advisor, claims outsourcing “is just another way of doing international trade” that will supposedly help the economy “in the long run.”

But while the administration’s response has been to denounce critics of outsourcing as “economic isolationists,” a recent Gallup Poll revealed that 61 percent of Americans were concerned that they, or a relative or friend, may lose a job to outsourcing. The same poll showed that 85 percent believed a candidate’s position on outsourcing would be important in how they choose to vote in the November election.

Retired GM executive and author, Gus Stelzer, who has studied trade and job issues for decades, says the lack of sufficient tariffs on imports from low-wage, virtual slave-labor nations—combined with the enormous tax and regulatory burdens, or domestic “tariffs,” that all levels of government impose on the American private sector—is taking its toll on America’s economic fabric. Companies such as SBC often succumb to the temptations inherent in such a system, utilizing the ultra-low wages paid to overseas workers to slash costs and reap enormous profits.

Stelzer argues that tariffs are a necessary form of taxation that could provide needed revenue to the federal government, while creating leeway for the government to lower domestic taxes and regulations, which would make America much more business-friendly for firms of all sizes—benefiting both white collar and blue collar workers.

Interestingly, a May 24 CWA news release announced that an U.S. trade panel gave final clearance on May 14 for anti-dumping duties on imports of color televisions from the People’s Republic of China. H

That was confirmed by Mike Bindas, president of the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers-Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA).

The IUE-CWA is the industrial division of the Communication Workers of America.

Bindas, speaking on behalf of IUE-CWA, one of three petitioners in a trade case, filed in May 2003, stated the following:

“We are very pleased with the outcome. This decision will benefit the hundreds of U.S. workers whose jobs are threatened by the flood of unfair imports into our country.”

The petition had alleged that color TV imports from China had been sold in the United States at prices below what it would have cost to produce them in this country.

The IBEW and Five Rivers Electronics Innovations LLC in Greenville, Tenn., had joined IUE-CWA in filing the petition with the Department of Commerce and a body called the International Trade Commission.

Central to their complaint was an import trend between 2001 and 2003, when TV imports from China reportedly surged from 56,000 units to 1.8 million units, a staggering 3,000 percent increase.

IUE-CWA, aside from representing SBC workers, also represents hundreds of workers producing color TVs in the United States, and thousands more who produce components and materials used in TV production.