Why NEA Supports AT&T Merger With T-Mobile
posted at 3:19 pm on June 13, 2011 by Mike Antonucci
At Politico, reporter Eliza Krigman investigated the curious circumstances surrounding the support of prominent liberal groups for the multi-billion-dollar telecom merger between AT&T and T-Mobile. She learned that many of them received contributions from AT&T last year – a discovery that garnered Krigman kudos from the Columbia Journalism Review, which chided the Washington Post for burying the lede in its merger story.
But in the case of at least one of these liberal groups the story is being told backwards. Last Tuesday, National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel issued a statement in support of the merger, saying, “Good news for business is not always good news for consumers, but this merger represents a win for everyone. The merger will expand access to high-speed wireless Internet service and help narrow the digital divide.”
Krigman noted that the NEA Foundation received $75,000 from AT&T last year, suggesting the donation may have influenced Van Roekel. A photo caption with the story reads, “AT&T says it does not support nonprofit groups out of any expectation of quid pro quo.”
While it is never a good idea for an organization to spit in the eye of someone who gives it money, the idea that NEA would sell out for $75,000 is a bit silly. The union took in $367 million last year. It spent $35,000 on coffee. Why would it risk its reputation for such a small sum?
The answer is: It wouldn’t. So what is this about? There are two reasons why NEA would support AT&T in its acquisition. One is hinted at in Van Roekel’s statement:
“We also hope union detractors will take note – AT&T partners with its employees to maintain a productive pro-worker environment that results in success for the corporation and good jobs for workers and support for students.”
Translating that from unionista into English, it means AT&T has 35 union contracts with 58 percent of its employees represented by a union. The corporation claims to have “more full-time bargained-for jobs than any other private company in America.”
T-Mobile is – surprise! – mostly non-union. The prospect of bringing tens of thousands of private-sector workers under the union banner is reason enough for NEA support.
But there is another reason. As you might have noticed, NEA and its affiliates are having some political difficulties these days. Securing a powerful corporate ally would be highly advantageous in the lobbying and campaign battles to come – even if just to deny support to the other side. The quid pro quo is not NEA issuing a statement in exchange for $75,000 – it is AT&T standing in NEA’s corner on teacher collective bargaining, school funding, and other issues on the union agenda in exchange for NEA’s merger support.