Strike authorization vote ongoing among Frontier union employees

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New London — Communications Workers of America Local 1298 is in the process of a strike authorization vote for its 2,000 Frontier Communications employees across the state.

But union President David Weidlich is optimistic that CWA can reach an agreement with Frontier without calling a strike.

Weidlich said the union started negotiations several months ago, and to "prepare for the worst-case scenario," the strike authorization vote started Monday and will conclude Wednesday. He expects to have the result of the vote posted online Wednesday evening.

Frontier Communications purchased AT&T operations in Connecticut in 2014, and in 2015, it opened its call center in the former AT&T location at 200 State St.

Weidlich said the current contract, which expires Oct. 14, is an extended agreement from when CWA was with AT&T in 2012. He doesn't know what the term of the next contract will be.

Weidlich said bargaining has "been going slow," and cited CWA's desire for job security as the main holdup.

"When they purchased us in 2014, they promised to invest in Connecticut, and grow jobs in Connecticut, and we want to hold them accountable to those promises," he said. Noting that Frontier has financial issues, he said they "want to maintain our wages and benefits, obviously, but we're not looking to get more out of a company that doesn't have more."

In August of last year, New London call center supervisor Derek Hurt said the location had about 50 employees, and he was looking to get levels up to 75 in the short term and 100 or higher in the long term.

Weidlich said about 100 of its 2,000 members who work for Frontier are in New London, while Frontier spokesperson Javier Mendoza said Frontier has approximately 80 employees in New London.

"Frontier Communications is committed to a fair and transparent negotiation process to reach an agreement that will work for the company, the union, and most importantly, our customers," he said in an email to The Day.

He said that Frontier maintains contingency plans in the event of a work stoppage, "assuring that quality services to residential and commercial customers, including access to emergency services, continue uninterrupted."

The work CWA members do for Frontier includes repair calls and retaining customers that are having issues, Weidlich said, noting that these jobs are vulnerable to being moved out of state.

He said they're working on a severance package, adding that if "people voluntarily leave, it creates opportunities for others to stay."

There hasn't been a Frontier strike in Connecticut before but there was one in West Virginia last year, Weidlich said.

Local 1298 is the sole local representing Frontier workers in Connecticut. Weidlich said Frontier has multiple union contracts across the country with CWA and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers locals.

Frontier Communications reported a net loss of $5.32 billion in the second quarter, and as of June 30, its debt totaled $16.8 billion, according to a slide show from Frontier's presentation to the state's Public Utilities Regulatory Authority on Sept. 16. It has a negative outlook from credit rating firms Moody's and Standard & Poor's.

Frontier serves 293,391 broadband connections and has 103,365 video subscribers, the presentation said.

e.moser@theday.com

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