Telecom monopolies have a pretty good racket going. They’ll consistently demand all manner of tax cuts, subsidies, and other government perks in exchange for A: jobs that never actually materialize, or B: broadband network expansions that somehow never actually arrive. The nation’s telcos in particular have received countless billions in taxpayer subsidies to expand their broadband networks, yet time and time again we’ve shown how they’ve wiggled out of these obligations, leaving huge swaths of America left outside of the reach of fast, inexpensive, competitive broadband (that’s particularly true in poor urban and rural areas).
Yet somehow, we here in America never quite learn the lesson. Case in point: you might recall that in late 2017 AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told anybody who’d listen that the Trump era tax cuts (which granted AT&T a $20 billion one-time windfall and $3 billion in extra cash every year thereafter) would create upwards of 7,000 new high-paying jobs paying $70-$80k. The CEO also tried to claim that as a direct result of the tax cuts it would be doling out $1000 bonuses to roughly 200,000 employees.
Funny story, but those promised jobs never arrived. AT&T did technically add some jobs, but they were of the dirt cheap, off-shored labor variety. In reality, union data suggests the company cut 10,700 US jobs in the year since Stephenson made his statement. This was on the heels of the 44 call centers and 16,000 jobs AT&T had already cut since 2011. And those bonuses? While employees did receive them, it was later revealed they had already been arranged as part of union negotiations, and had nothing to do with the Trump tax cuts. Even then, they accounted for about 7% of just one year of AT&T’s new tax benefits.
Fast forward to this week, when insiders at AT&T informed me that the company is planning yet another round of significant layoffs at the company as it attempts to pivot from grumpy old telco to sexy new Millennial advertising company:
“A source at AT&T who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak publicly told Motherboard that company leadership is planning what it’s calling a “geographic rationalization” and employment “surplus” reduction that will consolidate some aspects of AT&T operations in 10 major operational hubs in New York, California, Texas, New Jersey, Washington State, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, and Washington, DC. A spokesperson for AT&T confirmed to Motherboard that it is planning to “adjust” its workforce.”
AT&T downplayed the scope of the layoffs in my conversations with the company, but employees tell me they believe that as AT&T consolidates its network workforce in these key cities, a significant number of employees will lose their jobs if they’re outside of this footprint and unwilling or unable to relocate. While AT&T informed me the layoffs would only impact a “very small” number of employees, we should be able to fact check that claim in a few weeks or months when the cuts are made official.
On one hand, you can understand that a company flush with antiquated copper landlines might need to streamline its roster as it refocuses on streaming video over wireless. On the other hand, this is not the future AT&T promised in the wake of not only receiving tens-of-millions in tax breaks, but the incalculable billions it stands to make courtesy of the attack on net neutrality and FCC authority. The moves closely mirror similar ones made by Verizon, which responded to the huge cash influx not with hiring or raises, but with a massive, 10,000 employee workforce reduction.
About five years ago even the Wall Street Journal was forced to concede that throwing tax cuts at giant telecom monopolies never actually nets the job and investment promises the companies and their well-lobbied lawmaker pals claim they will. Everybody knows these kinds of perks go right into executive and investor pockets, yet every few years we engage in this adorable little stage play where we pretend these kinds of telecom subsidies, tax breaks, and deregulatory favors actually aid the common good, despite the fact history repeatedly shows us that’s never been, nor will ever be, actually true.
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