Protestors gather outside AT&T shareholder meeting in Columbus - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Protestors gather outside AT&T shareholder meeting in Columbus

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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -

Protestors marched and chanted outside of an AT&T shareholders meeting Friday morning, April 25, in Columbus, Ga. They were trying to urge company executives to stop shifting healthcare costs onto retirees.

Inside the meeting, the AT&T Board of Directors, along with the Chairman and CEO, were meeting with the company's shareholders.

Retirees who have dedicated their lives to the company, some working there more than 30 years, say AT&T is shifting healthcare costs onto them. Not only can they not afford the rising costs, they say the insurance premiums are more than what their pension pays. 

Communication Workers of America Local 3204, Union President Walter Andrews, said they helped build the company, and throughout history, their pensions have never increased. He also said that as employees, they weren't able to bargain over their pension. There's a pension clause in their contract, and when they retire, the company arbitrarily jacks up their healthcare premiums.

AT&T employee Zorita Harris--whose husband is an AT&T retiree--spoke about the increase in her husband's healthcare coverage.

"Two years ago he paid $24 a month to cover him and our twin sons. Last year, it went up to $330 dollars a month. This year, if he would have kept the same insurance, it would have went up to $450 some dollars a month," said Harris.

AT&T Spokesman Marty Richter says, "We really appreciate our employees, and retirees, and their dedication to the company over the years, and healthcare costs are going up for everyone, so we can understand their concerns."

Richter continues, "The fact is that, AT&T provides some of the best healthcare in the United States, and we subsidize at a rate that's far greater than the vast majority of other companies. In fact, we're one of only 28 percent of employers that provide any sort of retiree healthcare. We pay between 70 and 80 percent of the total cost of their healthcare."

Civil Rights Activist Reverend Jessie Jackson was in Columbus, and met with the AT&T Chairman before the shareholders meeting. They discussed a number of issues, including rising healthcare costs. Several high ranking AT&T officials agreed to continue meeting with Reverend Jackson about the issues.

This was Jackson's second stop in Columbus this week. He met with shareholders from Synovus Thursday as a part of a nationwide agenda.

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