AT&T’s Stephenson: Time to Address Systemic Racism

Says police union collective bargaining must be on table

AT&T chairman Randall Stephenson said that collective bargaining agreements secured by police unions have to be on the table in any approach to law enforcement reform, part of what he signaled was an overdue effort to address systemic racism.

That came in an online open letter to elected officials at all levels.

“[Police unions must be part of the solution,” he said in a blog post on the issue of racial equality and what was needed to bring that about. “To the extent that collectively bargained practices stand in the way of just treatment for Black Americans, those practices must be on the table. We must commit together to challenge anything which compromises accountability, trust, and confidence in law enforcement,” he said. “AT&T has one of America’s largest union-represented workforces, so I appreciate this won’t be easy. But America can no longer overlook the extent to which these policies and practices are contributing to unjust treatment.”

He said a hard look must be taken at legal precedents that exempt police officers from civil liability — so-called limited immunity — “even for shocking acts of misconduct and excessive force.”

Stephenson said that the “horrific deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and now Rayshard Brooks” demonstrate that the country has failed to establish equal justice for black Americans.

He said the cycle must be broken. “Outrage yields to protest, which leads to promises of reform. But in the end, little changes and the pattern repeats itself,” he said, suggesting this was a moment when that could happen.

Stephenson pledged “to represent AT&T and work on equitable justice as part of a new Business Roundtable committee of large company CEOs committed to advance racial equity and justice.”

He said the initial focus will be on changes in police practices, but would extend to “health and the disparate impact the pandemic has inflicted on black communities; financial systems; and education and workforce development.”