Defending the Merger Between AT&T and T-Mobile

11/08/2011 03:09 pm ET | Updated Jan 08, 2012

Californians and Angelenos are facing a devastating economic crisis. The national unemployment rate is just over nine percent. California unemployment is 12 percent -- only Nevada is higher. And in Los Angeles, it's more than 13 percent. Bottom line: tens of thousands of people who want jobs simply can't find them. Any opportunity to good create jobs is an opportunity we cannot let pass by. We have such an opportunity before us now.

But the Obama Administration's Justice Department is threatening to do just that. Its recent move to block the merger between AT&T and T-Mobile threatens to destroy the best opportunity we have right now to deliver major investment and create good jobs. The merger would mean jobs today, to build a better wireless network, and jobs tomorrow, which will depend increasingly on wireless technology as a backbone of our infrastructure.

That's why I support the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile. It's a way to bring investment to California at a time when jobs are scarce and the need for economic kick-start has never been greater.

This merger would bring a substantial investment to our community. AT&T has committed to invest $8 billion nationwide, to build out high speed wireless broadband to another 55 million people. This will bring the benefits and tools of Internet technology to millions of people, in underserved communities and rural areas, who now have no broadband access.

Building this network means jobs: jobs to expand and upgrade the network, at small and medium-sized companies in the supply chain, and secondary jobs created as investment dollars are recycled and reinvested by working families. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that this investment will create as many as 96,000 jobs nationwide. Without this merger, broadband build out on this scale won't go forward.

An expanded network will empower people -- and especially small businesses -- to innovate and compete in brand new ways. It's a critical part of economic development, and like the highway system of the 1950s, will link consumers, sellers, business and communities. And of course robust and vibrant communities means more jobs.

This merger will help give all citizens the tools needed to thrive in today's economy. Telemedicine and smart grids have enormous potential, but they will remain beyond the reach of tens of millions of Americans unless we accelerate the build-out of true high speed broadband.

Since AT&T and T-Mobile utilize the same technology and spectrum, the merged company can provide faster data speeds, better cell phone coverage and the latest in technology for businesses and families. Is there a better way to close the digital divide that separate us than by expanding broadband, data and voice communications to a much broader reach of our citizen.?

The way that we conduct business and live our lives has changed dramatically over the past few years. And it will continue to change. We've come to rely on mobile devices, and we'll need a fast and reliable network to help us do everything, from remotely managing delivery fleets and tracking crop inventory, to ordering pizza online and even hailing taxi cabs. The amount of traffic that crosses the current data network has exploded 8,000 percent from 2007 to 2010. AT&T expects that traffic will increase between eight and ten times by 2015. We need an expanded and upgraded network to get us there, and the AT&T/T-Mobile merger will do just that.

It's also important to note that AT&T is the only major wireless company with unionized employees. The 23,000 employees at T-Mobile USA will have a free choice about union representation, and they'll be able to make up their own minds without management interference. If they choose a union voice, they will still have issues to work through with their company, but they will have the right and opportunity to bargain for better conditions. That's something denied to T-Mobile workers now.

And AT&T has committed to keeping quality jobs here in the U.S., and bringing back a net 5,000 call center jobs from overseas. If more corporations showed that kind of responsibility, we could move out of our economic slump.

Labor unions representing 20 million workers from teachers to service workers to truckers understand the jobs and innovation benefits that the merger will bring.

So do members of the Sierra Club and other green groups, the civil rights movement, religious organizations and other groups.

This is a merger that makes sense. It will create a much-needed boost to our economy. It's a good deal for California and a good deal for Los Angeles.

Maria Elena Durazo is executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.