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Dave Saldana

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AT&T Messes with Texas: Is Campaign Cash More Important than Latino Jobs?

Posted: 08/15/2011 12:44 pm

Texas Gov. Rick Perry suddenly finds himself among the frontrunners for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, buoyed by his supposedly strong record on creating jobs in the country's second most populous state. But beneath the veneer of Perry's purported success--it's been called "a Texas miracle"--are some facts that should trouble all of us. While the Lone Star State does in fact have a lower official unemployment rate than the rest of the country, a disproportionate number of those lucky employed are toiling in minimum-wage gigs that pay them just enough to be officially poor. You'd figure facts like that would encourage Gov. Perry to take steps to protect good-paying jobs in Texas. But you'd be wrong.

Perry is one of the biggest cheerleaders for Dallas-based AT&T's proposed $39 billion merger with wireless rival T-Mobile, a deal which stands to put as many as 20,000 T-Mobile employees out of work if it's approved. Particularly vulnerable are those workers who have jobs that duplicate those already done by AT&T employees--think customer service and retail workers. AT&T is promising investors $10 billion in "synergies" (read: cuts) to services like call centers that it's suspiciously silent about in its public statements. Three major call centers that could be mothballed are in Texas, two of them in overwhelmingly Latino communities where workers were recruited and hired for their bilingual skills.

One of these is in Brownsville, where more than 92% of its 170,000 residents are Latino. The unemployment rate there is not quite as good there as the rest of Texas, hovering around 13% . The same percentage are unemployed in Mission, Texas, the overwhelmingly Latino community of 64,000 where another T-Mobile call center is housed. In addition to bucking the statewide unemployment trend, in a bad way, Mission leads the nation in one galling statistic: nearly half (46%) of the community lacks health insurance. Things are a little better in Frisco, a Dallas suburb and home to the third T-Mobile call center in Texas. In this mostly-white city, the unemployment rate is a less painful 8.7%.

These unemployment numbers are likely to climb if AT&T's merger goes through and those call center workers are "synergized" right into the unemployment line. Why is Gov. Perry waving the banner for AT&T and its power grab that could pink slip hundreds of his loyal citizens? I'll give you 692,000 guesses. That's the number of dollars AT&T has given Perry in campaign contributions since 2002. Or maybe Perry just believes AT&T's promise that this merger would create jobs. The fantastic number of 100,000 new jobs has been tossed around--and quickly debunked. If those promises are motivating the governor to back the corporation that pays for his campaigns rather than the citizens who voted him into office, he might want to take a closer look at AT&T's numbers and its history. Perry could use a bit more of the healthy skepticism Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) showed when he asked AT&T and T-Mobile what this merger would mean for his Seattle-area constituents. Inslee reminded them of 2004 Cingular-AT&T Wireless merger that closed the latter's headquarters in his district. He further reminded them of the less-than-ironclad quality of telecom companies' promises where mergers are concerned:

"In 2005, Alltel (now Verizon Wireless) acquired Bellevue-based Western Wireless. Despite assurances that 'much less' than 10% of Western Wireless employees would be laid off, two years later only 115 of the 930 Washington employees remained."

Inslee's concern seems especially well placed in light of T-Mobile's acknowledgment that severance packages are already being prepared for workers who will lose their jobs in the merger. Gov. Perry's "Texas miracle," such as it is, is largely thanks to surprisingly large Latino support. But if he wants that support to continue, he probably should spend more time protecting their jobs instead of courting AT&T's campaign dollars.