Stemming the tide of rising economic insecurity for service workers, a major union has won significant job protection and increased pay for about 20,000 AT&T wireless employees, as well as a commitment to bring work back from overseas.
The deal, struck Wednesday, comes as President Trump has made clear his desire to keep low- and middle-skilled jobs in this country.
The union, for its part, offered to help make the case for AT&T’s proposed $ 85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, which the Trump administration has opposed. The support of a union representing hundreds of thousands of working-class voters may have proved compelling to AT&T as it faces off against the White House.
“We tried to emphasize to the company that we could help you or hurt you,” said Dennis G. Trainor, a vice president of the Communications Workers of America, which represents the employees. The union called in mid-November for approval of the acquisition.
Service industries provide by far the largest share of American jobs. But in many service fields — notably the traditional retail sector — workers have found it difficult to gain traction on issues like low pay, high turnover and unpredictable scheduling.
The AT&T wireless workers had been without a long-term contract since February and staged a strike in May that lasted less than three days.
Under the labor accord, which primarily covers workers in call centers and retail outlets, AT&T will significantly increase the proportion of calls it routes to centers in the United States, reversing a recent trend. It will also commit to giving workers a new job, in most cases, if the company closes the call center or retail store where they work.
The agreement is subject to ratification by the union membership in voting on a local level from now to Jan. 12.
“AT&T wireless workers’ victory is a watershed moment, for themselves and their families, and for working people across the telecom sector who are fighting to keep good jobs in our communities,” the union’s president, Chris Shelton, said in a statement.
The union estimated that AT&T had cut thousands of call center jobs since 2011 and sent many of them overseas.
It also complained that AT&T had been shifting work from company-owned retail stores to so-called authorized retailers that were not unionized and tended to have lower wages and weaker benefits.
AT&T provided assurances that it was not planning to shift its strategy away from company-owned retail stores, Mr. Trainor said. AT&T did not explicitly commit to keeping a major retail-store presence, he added, but the job security provision of the contract alleviated the union’s concerns.
Crucially, the union said the agreement addressed concerns that changes in the structure of retail workers’ commissions were limiting or reducing their pay. The accord shifts some compensation that had been paid out as commissions into the workers’ base pay.
“That’s huge for us,” Mr. Trainor said. “Companies are constantly changing the goal posts for us. Workers don’t know what they’re making from week to week.”
Beyond that, pay for workers will rise by about 10 percent over the life of the four-year contract, to an average of more than $ 19 an hour — substantially higher than is typical for retail and call center workers.
The company’s wireless business has been growing faster than its wireline operations — traditional landlines and wire-based internet service — and is more profitable. This has created something of a challenge for AT&T and its competitor Verizon, which straddle the two businesses, particularly as they compete with T-Mobile, which focuses on wireless.
AT&T faces the additional complication of a major union presence on its wireless side, which competitors lack, but the relative profitability of the wireless business may have eased the way for a deal.
If the contract is approved, union officials will have their work cut out for them in following through on the commitment to help with company’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner. The Trump administration recently sued to block the acquisition, and the parties are due in federal court next year to make their case.