Effect of T-Mobile sale on Chattanooga workers unclear

Effect of T-Mobile sale on Chattanooga workers unclear

March 22nd, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

This photo combination shows logos for AT&T, left, and Deutsche Telekom AG. AT&T Inc. on Sunday, March 20, 2011 said it will buy T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom AG in a cash-and-stock deal valued at $39 billion, becoming the largest cellphone company in the U.S. (AP Photo)

AT&T spokeswoman Cathy Lewandowski said it was "too early to know" how the $39 billion merger with T-Mobile would play out on employment at the two giant wireless phone companies.

"In situations where [there is] overlap in work functions, we expect the majority to be taken care of through normal employee attrition," she said.

Chattanooga is home to a $16 million T-Mobile call center that opened five years ago, as well as a number of kiosks and storefronts that sell T-Mobile equipment and contracts.

However, until federal regulators approve the deal, T-Mobile will remain as a separate business. The regulatory process is expected to take a year.

Tom Edd Wilson, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, praised the merger proposal, saying the deal would increase the reliability and speed of wireless broadband in the region.

"That gives Chattanooga area businesses and consumers access to next-generation technology that can speed the flow of information," he said.

Wilson said AT&T's plans, far from destroying jobs, would "support Chattanooga's intelligent community strategy of leveraging technology to encourage job creation."

The Associated Press said that AT&T's primary goal in the merger is to gain access to T-Mobile's wireless spectrum, which will be used to launch more rapidly the company's fourth-generation LTE technology.

Cell carriers depend on access to wireless spectrum to communicate among cell phones and nearby towers.

The merger also received support from Warren Logan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga.

"The most important way to ensure the continued growth and prosperity of members of the minority and low-income population in Chattanooga is by ensuring availability of broadband and high-speed wireless services," Logan said.

Another issue at stake is how AT&T's unionized work force will mesh with T-Mobile's, which is non-union.

Tennessee allows workers to choose whether to join a union, and T-Mobile employees will have the option to do so after the merger is approved, AT&T officials said Monday.

The Communications Workers of America support the merger, while the Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, does not.

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6315.