Wrong Number

Laid-off AT&T workers refuse to hang up

"That wall became a symbol," says Carpenter. "We were not allowed to go over to the AT&T long-distance side, and they were not allowed to come over to our side. And I was one of the first to get transferred from long distance to local, and it just got very uncomfortable."

The younger set displayed radically different office behaviors. "They'd come in every day hung-over," complains Alexis Sebastian, 45 at the time of the layoffs. "They'd be surfing the Internet all day, talking on the phone. It was ridiculous."

"I remember this loudmouthed, vulgar-talking guy in my area," says Carpenter. "And I complained to my supervisor about his language, because he'd be using the f-word every other second. And she just said, 'This is just the way the younger generation acts and talks. Get used to it.'"

Kamal Abdul-Rasheed knows everything about your telephone --and then some.
Matt Garcia
Kamal Abdul-Rasheed knows everything about your telephone --and then some.

Carpenter remembers another young girl in her work group coming up to her and Joanne Guzman, another over-50 AT&T vet let go with the group, shortly before the layoffs. "She said, 'You know why I don't like you guys? Because you guys think you know it all, just because you've been here longer than anybody else.' And yeah," she laughs, "we did!"

Certainly the know-it-all attitudes of the older workers have some nerve-grating potential. Abdul-Rasheed, Carpenter, Guzman and Sebastian all describe their younger former co-workers as inexperienced slackers ("burger-flippers," in Guzman's words) who were pulled in from jobs such as hat salesman, mail-room clerk and nail technician to direct the old-school veterans. "They'd be sitting there looking at a computer printout going, 'What's wrong?'" Abdul-Rasheed says. "And I'd look at them and say, 'You've got an open loop -- and if you knew what the hell you were looking at, it tells you right there!'"

Still, that know-it-all-ism is precisely what customers want, Abdul-Rasheed insists, when their business line goes down or they can't reach Grandma on a stormy night.

"That's what people complain about today, the bad service," he says. "When the line goes down, why does it take so long to get it working again? The answer is, you don't get to talk to a technician anymore. You're talking to a clerk, reading from a script, with a little checklist of things to try. And if those things don't work, that's the extent of their knowledge.

"With guys like me, you get the big picture of the problem right away, because I've seen it all -- from wires to modules to digitized bit stream.

"But," he adds with a sour grin, "it's getting so there aren't a whole lot of guys like me left!"

E-mail jimmy.magahern@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8478.

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