New London - AT&T, responding to a complaint by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio that the company had neglected to file a notifice of intent to close a downtown call center, has delayed by nearly two months a planned relocation of 84 employees to New Haven.
"The city believes the lack of notice may be in violation of federal law," Finizio said in a letter dated July 2 to Randall Stephenson, chief executive of Dallas-based AT&T.
On July 3, AT&T filed a notification indicating that the call center will not be closed until Sept. 1 at the earliest, and William Henderson, president of the local Communications Workers of America union, said Monday that the company told him the closure would occur Sept. 9. The office at 200 State St. originally was slated for closure July 15.
Finizio's letter related to the closure of facilities covered by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. AT&T said it didn't believe a movement of workers to another office at 350 George St. in New Haven fell under the WARN requirement, but decided to file a notice to ensure that it was in compliance with the law.
"All 84 employees currently employed at the New London facility will be offered a position at the New Haven facility, and we believe that this location is within a reasonable commuting distance," AT&T said in its letter to the state Department of Labor.
Henderson said the Labor Department considers a move of 35 miles or less to be a reasonable distance, but the New Haven consolidation will require a commute of about 50 miles.
"AT&T doesn't lay off people, it just makes it hard for them to stay," Henderson said. "The more people who leave, the more jobs they can offshore to a foreign country."
Henderson said he is trying to arrange a meeting between AT&T and state, federal and local officials to discuss the economic impact of the company's proposed move out of New London, where it has maintained an office for more than 70 years. He is hoping that an alternative could be found, such as utilizing space in an AT&T building on Washington Street that has plenty of empty space.
"I think this is a mistake that AT&T is making," Finizio said in a phone interview. "There is no real impending need to do this."
Finizio, in an earlier letter to the company, said it was unconscionable that a company making $13 billion a year in profits would put extra burdens on its workers.
"This move will unduly harm middle class workers who will now have to cover the increased cost of gas in tough economic times," he said in the letter.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney also have criticized AT&T's planned move.
Last month, about 30 local members of the Communications Workers of America union, joined by Finizio and state Rep. Ernest Hewett, protested outside the AT&T building, saying they were fighting for their jobs.
At the time, AT&T denied allegations that the local closure was tied to an elaborate plan to send more jobs overseas.