Union leader backs AT&T sale of its landlines to Stamford firm

The president of a union serving local AT&T workers says he supports the company's sale of landline and digital U-verse businesses in Connecticut to Stamford-based Frontier Communications Corp.

William Henderson III, who previously opposed the deal as head of the Communications Workers of America Local 1298 because neither Frontier nor AT&T had been immediately forthcoming about their business plans, said that Frontier has since guaranteed no layoffs through 2018. The company also would maintain health care coverage for workers, as well as pensions and a 401(k) retirement plan match.

"Frontier has shown that they're a company that's concerned with service and the people who work for them," Henderson said in a phone interview this week. "We're very positive on this."

Frontier is currently having its proposed acquisition of the AT&T businesses analyzed by the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, which is expected to rule by October on whether to approve the deal.

Frontier announced the $2 billion cash deal with AT&T in December. The company said it could find $200 million in annual savings without cutting AT&T's landline and U-verse workforce.

Frontier did not respond to a phone request for more information about its plans in Connecticut. As part of the deal, it would acquire former AT&T buildings on State and Washington streets, leading to speculation that Frontier could use these facilities again and redeploy former AT&T personnel moved from New London to New Haven within the past year, but Henderson said he has heard nothing official about the company's plans.

The company did issue a press release last month, saying an agreement with the union includes the addition of 85 new union jobs, priority routing to Connecticut call center representatives and 100 shares of Frontier stock to each new union employee at the close of the transaction.

"That's a huge stability factor for the people who work at AT&T and are making this transition," Henderson said. "It's a win-win for everybody."

"We are very pleased the CWA acknowledges the transaction's benefit to the public," said Daniel J. McCarthy, president and chief operating officer of Frontier, in a statement. "Our discussions with the CWA about the Connecticut acquisition have been open, honest and ongoing."

Frontier said an approved acquisition would leave the company with nearly 3,000 in-state employees and about 1 million Connecticut customers. The company previously had no customers in New England.

The acquisition is expected to be completed in the last quarter of the year. The Federal Communications Commission needs to review the deal.

Henderson said he looked at the transaction as the return of a company rooted in the community, similar to what Connecticut saw when the Southern New England Telephone Co., commonly known as SNET, ran phone operations in the state.

"I look at it as a new beginning," Henderson said.

l.howard@theday.com

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