Possible Frontier strike looms as contract expires Saturday

Photo of Luther Turmelle
Union members demonstrate outside the Merritt 7 Corporate Park headquarters of Frontier Communications in Norwalk, Conn., on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019.

Union members demonstrate outside the Merritt 7 Corporate Park headquarters of Frontier Communications in Norwalk, Conn., on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019.

Alexander Soule / Hearst Connecticut Media

Nearly all of the unionized workers at Connecticut’s legacy telecommunications company, Frontier Communications, have vote to authorize a strike if necessary when their two-year contract expires Saturday night.

About 97 percent of Hamden-based union Local 1298 of the Communications Workers of America gave authorization to leadership to call for a walkout if necessary, said Dave Weidlich, president of the union local. Voting began on Tuesday and concluded Thursday evening, according to Weidlich.

“Our members have spoke and they are almost 100 percent behind us,” he said during a news conference at Local 1298 headquarters Friday afternoon. “We want fair pay, fair benefits and a future in Connecticut as we were promised in 2014.”

Local 1298 has about 2,400 members — 1,600 of whom are Frontier workers, he said. He said Local 1298’s negotiating team has been meeting with company representatives for about three weeks, “but we aren’t making any progress.”

“Our goal is to continue bargaining with the company until we reach an agreement,” Weidlich said. “But at the same time, we want them to know that we have the ability to strike if things don’t work out.”

Frontier officials could not be reached Friday for comment about the union’s strike authorization voting. Frontier bought the telecommunications company from AT&T and the deal closed in October 2014.

If Local 1298 were to go on strike, it would mark the union’s first walkout since a two-day strike in 2012 when the company was owned by AT&T, Weidlich said.

A strike could mean Frontier customers would experience delays in replacing utility poles, new service installations and repairs as well as an increased level of difficulty in reaching customer service representatives.

Since the last contract agreement, Frontier has undergone a dramatic transformation, having filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April 2020 and then emerging from it in May of this year . Frontier officials have said that a significant focus on building out a fiber optic network for ultra high-speed internet service will help turn the company’s financial fortunes around.

Weidlich said that plan — and what it means to Frontier’s unionized workers — are at the center of the contract talks.

“The main thing is securing a future for our members as Frontier invests in bringing fiber to the home,” he said. “They are using contractors to do that work right now and what we’re saying is that we have the resources to do it, why would you want to do that? There is so much federal money that is going to be coming for broadband installation, it would be a win-win for both the company and the union.”

Another factor in the negotiations is that the company has proposed increasing health care costs for workers by 89 percent over the life of the contract.

“The last thing any company should be doing during the pandemic is balancing the cost of doing business on the backs of its workers,” said state Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown. Lesser was joined by State Rep. Robyn Porter, whose district includes Hamden.

“They have been front line heroes working throughout the pandemic and it’s not right that they have to go home and not be able to care for their families financially,” Porter said.