Some workers in Tulsa are worried over a big merger

Wednesday, February 2nd 2005, 10:14 am
By: News On 6

When SBC merged with AT&T this week, it opened the door to AT&T's huge long-distance network. The same kind of long-distance service that SBC buys from Tulsa-based WilTel.

In fact, SBC is WilTel's biggest customer, providing almost 70% of WilTel's revenue. Some worry that WilTel may need to be looking for a big new customer.

News on 6 business reporter Steve Berg says WilTel is not commenting on the merger, but an expert, the News on 6 talked to, says this should be a big wake-up call to WilTel.

ORU business professor Charles Atkins says if he were in charge of WilTel, he'd start looking for new customers and fast. "They have a supreme challenge." On the one hand, Atkins says WilTel was smart. The deal with SBC gives WilTel a $200-million payout if SBC breaks their contract. But in this case, he says even $200-million is no substitute for your biggest customer. "Once that payment has been made, that doesn't replace the fact that we don't have that revenue stream rolling at us."

And there is angst on the SBC side too. Because of the merger, the company announced they'll reduce their workers by 13,000 companywide. No word on how many that means in Tulsa. But local communications union chief David Ratcliffe with CWA Local 6012 is concerned. "They're out there spending billions, millions on acquisitions and yet they won't hire the field person it takes to maintain the plant."

Ratcliffe says it's not all negative. For one thing, he says SBC has a better track record than AT& T at keeping work in the US, rather than sending it overseas. And he's hopeful that other work can be found within the company for people whose jobs get eliminated by the merger. "It is an exciting time, but it's also a scary time."

The change won't happen overnight. SBC will gradually migrate its business away from WilTel over the next year or so. So that will give WilTel some time.