A few hours after the Republican tax plan cleared its final vote, AT&T announced it would be giving 200,000 of its workers a $1,000 bonus.
The conservative press quickly ran with the story, framing it as sweet vindication for supply-side economics and a victory for President Trump. A representative tweet looked something like this:
Except a few things complicate the emerging narrative about the benevolence of AT&T and the wisdom of handing wealthy corporations a massive tax cut.
The most significant: Communication Workers of America, the union that represents thousands of AT&T workers across the United States, appears to have been the engine behind the bonuses.
In late November, the New York Times reported:
This week, the Communications Workers of America asked several companies that employ its members to promise to give workers a pay increase if the cut in the corporate tax rate goes through. The request, while unlikely to be heeded, highlights a critical question over who would benefit the most from the tax bill: shareholders or workers?
“President Trump and the Republican Congress have been trying to sell this corporate tax cut to working families by making big claims about wage increases, investment and job growth that don’t seem to be supported by the evidence,” said Chris Shelton, the president of the union. “We’re going straight to the people who know how corporations plan to spend the billions of dollars being handed over to them — the C.E.O.s — and asking them if they intend to keep the promises that Trump is making on their behalf.”
In a statement to Splinter, CWA confirmed they had been in talks with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson about a wage increase tied to a pending tax cut:
Following discussions with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, CWA President Chris Shelton reported that CWA represented workers at AT&T will receive a $1,000 bonus.
Last month, CWA said employers should guarantee the $4,000 wage increase promised by the Republican corporate tax cut, and contacted the CEOs of some of the largest corporations where CWA members work including Verizon, AT&T, CenturyLink, Frontier Communications, American Airlines, General Electric, NBC Universal and ABC Entertainment.
“Together, through collective bargaining, we can ensure that promises about wages and jobs are kept,” Shelton wrote.
But union pressure may only be part of the story. Trump’s Department of Justice is currently suing to block a merger between AT&T and Time Warner. The company failed to reach an agreement with the DOJ earlier this month, and a trial is set for March. AT&T may believe that flattering the child-brained president—and publicly playing up the success of his single legislative accomplishment—will help dispel objections to their merger.
AT&T PR has denied that this was a consideration in their decision:
Of course, it’s possible that the bonus was a concession to the union, and it was merely the decision to spin it as a result of the tax vote that was made in order to influence the DOJ.
Or then again, maybe trickle-down suddenly started working and all of the executives who just days ago said they were going to use their tax windfall for share buybacks were only kidding.