From Birmingham, AL — 02/08/2009
First of all, I started working for the company in 1979 under the old (beloved) Bell System. The former AT&T was a big family and we were all proud to be there. The United States Department of Justice stepped in and at the end of 1983, BellSouth was created along with its spun-off brothers and sisters across the country. BellSouth maintained the same great atmosphere of loyalty, respect, and creativity that had flourished in the pre-divestiture version of AT&T.
Fast forward to 2006 where a thinly-veiled SBC (calling itself AT&T due to a previous transaction) exercised a rather hostile takeover bid on BellSouth (the last remaining unchanged Baby Bell). BellSouth fell victim to the threats that SBC lashed out and by the end of 2007 any evidence of BellSouth was gone.
Luckily, the US government stepped in to protect the BellSouth Master Pension Trust (one of the crown jewels that SBC was really going after) so unlike our SBC/AT&T counterparts around the country, we still retain our pension and it continues to grow as if it were still being managed by BellSouth until the end of 2015. Our pay grows at a slower rate however, and this year the Board of Directors announced that there would be NO pay increases this year due to "the economy". This announcement coming on the heels of a year of bragging in 2008 about how well the company was doing financially and how iPhone sales helped the wireless division post record profits. As well, our annual bonus program has been whittled down to near non-existence.
SBC has segmented itself so that transferring to jobs in other parts of the company are now nearly impossible. Partnering with its bedfellow (Communications Workers of America), there have been restrictions placed in the various union contracts which basically forbid an employee to transfer to a job covered by a separate contract. For instance, a Craft employee working in Yellow Pages cannot seek out and transfer to a job in Landline Network, Landline Sales, Wireless, Internet Services, Billing, or any of the other plethora of CWA contracts in place. They brag about employment opportunities, but you better decide on which part of the company you want to work for because there is no freedom of movement. When I called HR/Staffing about a job that was posted in my same building, I was told that I would have to be off payroll for six months before I could apply for that job because it is in a different subsidiary than the one I work in. As it turned out, I have the exact skillsets required of that job, and the person they hired has been to numerous training classes out-of-town at great expense to the company and still she is not performing the job satisfactorily (11 months later). The manager in that group has spoken to me several times to find out if I would be willing to "help her out" on my own time because he knows that I know how to do that job. If you guessed that my reply to him was a rousing HELL NO, then you are a very smart individual!
Location -- I don't know who decides what, but some really bad decisions are made. The Birmingham DSL Call Center had a great opportunity early in its planning stages. BellSouth had just emptied out a building in Birmingham near the intersection of I-459 and Hwy 280 (yes, The Colonnade). That building comes equipped with a fully functioning cafeteria, gym, conference facilities out the ying-yang, and FREE parking in two covered parking decks attached to the buildings by covered walkways. It is convenient to daycare, hotels, restaurants, other shopping, and easily accessible from two very major highways. Instead, the company allowed the City of Birmingham to dangle a tax abatement check in front of their eyes on the condition that the call center be placed downtown in the old South Central Bell state headquarters building. So the decision was made to place the lowest paid people in the company ($10/hr in this day and age if you can handle that) in a downtown/urban environment with very competitive parking situations (some as high as $80/month), a makeshift cafeteria in the lobby, no daycare in the area, and in a building with outdated and aging infrastructure (it was built in 1968 and has only been remodeled ONCE). Combine that with the company's decision to force the call center into a 24/7 schedule so you have employees walking out into the pitch black dark of night to their cars in an area that is rife with drug deals, drive-by shootings, and prostitution. Not good.
My coworkers are, however, among the best in the business and thank God for them or else I would not make it through the day.
You know, SBC stands for Still Buying Companies. Ed Whitacre had a vision that he could reconstruct the former Bell System, but I don't think this was what he had in mind. Maybe that's why he darted out the door as fast as he did after the BellSouth hostile takeover was completed. He realized his mistakes and knew that nothing could be done to fix them. I hope he and Duane Ackerman are enjoying their millions wherever they are now residing.