AT&T closing hundreds more stores

AT&T is closing 320 company-owned AT&T Mobility retail stores in November and December, affecting more than 1,600 workers, according to the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union.

AT&T didn’t confirm those numbers, but CWA said the closures are on top of the 250 stores that AT&T closed earlier in the year.

According to the operator, they’re part of a larger trend. Shopping patterns are changing, and more people are OK with buying their devices and services online, a practice that started before Covid.

“As we have previously announced, we are transforming our business. That includes adjusting our retail presence to reflect our customers’ shopping practices. While these plans are not new, they have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” AT&T said in a statement.

However, the CWA said that while AT&T blames store closures on changing customer behavior during the pandemic, the decreasing number of stores is part of a plan proposed a year ago when hedge fund Elliott Management fought for changes at the company.

RELATED: AT&T will be closing corporate stores as well

At the time, Elliott identified opportunities for AT&T to reduce costs in its retail footprint, including closing redundant stores and increasing labor productivity. It also advocated greater use of authorized retailers, most of which are run by a company called Prime Communications that uses AT&T branding. Workers at authorized dealer stores generally earn less than union-represented workers at corporate stores and have fewer benefits, according to CWA.

CWA earlier this week blasted AT&T for its use of subcontractors that the union said pose a safety threat in the communities they work in. The CWA has seen its membership dwindle due to AT&T's efforts to reduce its workforce as part of an overall plan to cut operational costs by $6 billion.

In a statement today, AT&T told Fierce that the company will “make every effort to place employees in other nearby AT&T stores.” 

All frontline union-represented employees will be offered a role either in a nearby retail store or as a work-at-home call center representative, according to the company. “Others will be encouraged to apply for open roles that may be available in other parts of the business,” the statement said.

According to a Wave7 Research report based on analysis done in June, AT&T had more than 5,000 stores, of which slightly more than 2,000 were corporate stores; the others were dealer stores.