September 10, 2021
AT&T recently released a safety video demonstrating how to properly tie a clove hitch knot. The training video was filmed in the Company’s home state of Texas and was released throughout the Company’s network organizations. As the video states: “They have attempted to use a lot of humor to get their point across,” and a high ranking company official boasts that: “You will not be able to get this message out of your head.” Groups of employees definitely cannot get the imagery out of their heads.
Sadly, the video reinforces the message that high level company officials are blind to the existence of systemic discrimination and social intolerance that appears to exist at AT&T. While the video received positive reviews from some employees, others could not help but see a harmful racial undertone. The video is hurtful.
The questionable portion of the video features a caricature made out of a knotted hemp rope with a black wig and large red lips, which when viewed can immediately invoke images of racism, slavery, lynching and other emotions for which no person should ever be subjected to, especially in a company like AT&T.
Some may argue that the image is being taken out of context or the issue is being blown out of proportion. However, those types of defensive statements are at the heart of systemic racism and cultural insensitivity and are truly exacerbating this cruelty. These feelings cannot be ignored just because those in the positions of authority chose to act unaware of past societal injustices that can trigger feelings of racism, sexism, political animosity, or religious persecution.
It can be said that this was just an “oversight” or an unfortunate misunderstanding. However, this incident when viewed along with the day-to-day attitudes and comments made by frontline supervisors, training instructors, their superiors and others in positions of authority makes it even more clear that societal insensitivity and discrimination do exist at AT&T.
As we talk about intolerance at AT&T, we must also address the corporation’s demands regarding mandatory Covid vaccines. Most can agree on the need for employees to be vaccinated. However, AT&T executives appear to be failing to take into consideration the historical lessons learned from the unethical culturally-biased Tuskegee experiment and the medical and emotional impacts caused by the military’s forced vaccinations policies. AT&T Executives must also be open to considering reasonable options for employees who have legitimate medical and religious reasons for declining to be vaccinated. These cultural and social concerns must be understood when crafting a policy.
AT&T boasts of being a Fortune Twenty Company and Business Roundtable Leader. Approximately five years ago, AT&T assembled a “Believe” program attempting to be responsible corporate citizens by investing in underprivileged communities, which is honorable. However, by the fall of 2019 as Wall Street’s heightened scrutiny of the Company became more public, the responsible corporate citizen piece seemed to have turned into more of a media sound bite reserved for use with elected officials and regulatory agencies.
Unfortunately, AT&T continues to brush aside its failures that have created a toxic culture within its own ranks. The original AT&T Corp. used to hail its employees as its single largest and most important asset. However, today it appears that the “New AT&T”, AT&T Inc. has definitely left its ink stain on its employees as it appears to show favor to its Wall Street and Governmental friends instead of being the real family matriarch that “Ma Bell” always was in caring for her family.
The first step to recovery is to admit that a problem exists. We ask AT&T executives to take immediate action to right the wrongs most recently perpetrated on its employees by the aforementioned distasteful video and immediately acknowledge the error of the unthinkable judgement used in its release. Accountability is only the beginning of healing these wounds. Employees have been fired for far less questionable alleged discriminatory Code of Conduct violations.
AT&T Executives - examine your souls and consider dropping the: “Do as I say, not as I do” approach and truly become the Round Table leader your egos so desire. Pay attention to the toll that your lack of internal responsible leadership has caused on what used to be your most valuable asset. Commit to healing those problems before you opt for another media sound bite. We hold out hope for you because we all are in this together!
IBEW Local Union 21 President Business Manager Paul Wright is humbled by the trust displayed by our members who spoke with him about the disturbing video and acknowledges the courage it took to do so. We hope their actions will drive the change that is clearly needed at AT&T.