As one strike ends, another begins

Frontier workers seek job security amid layoffs

BUCKHANNON — Questions swirling around job security — or lack thereof — lie at the root of a Frontier Communications workers strike throughout West Virginia and part of Virginia that began Sunday at 12:01 a.m.

Frontier employees were picketing at two locations in Upshur County — Florida Street and Dewberry Trail — on Monday after the union they belong to, Communications Workers of America, announced the strike Sunday.

The union’s Sunday press release said Communications Workers of America had been unable to reach a “fair” agreement with Frontier before its contract expired. That contract had originally been set to expire in August, but was renewed until November and then expired March 3.

Frontier and CWA have been in talks since May 2017, according to the release, but worries about job security and the telecommunications company’s quality of service spurred Frontier workers, including CWA local 2010 members, to strike.

The strike involves 1,400 workers throughout the Mountain State and Ashburn, Va., although only about 30 Frontier workers in Upshur County are affected, said John Paugh, president of CWA Local 2010 union.

“We’ve been trying to negotiate with them,” Paugh told The Record Delta Monday. “It’s about our jobs. We want good West Virginia jobs occupied by West Virginians, and right now, they’re trying to eliminate our jobs and give them to lower-paid out-of-state contractors.”

Paugh said since December 2017, Frontier has announced layoffs affecting about 150 people in West Virginia. According to the contract that expired March 3, Frontier must give employees 90 days notice prior to termination.

“They’ve also tried to buy [employees/union members] out, get them to take an early retirement or give them an incentive package just to leave,” Paugh said.

Indeed, the CWA press release claims the internet, telephone and television provider has slashed 500 “good, middle-class jobs” in West Virginia since it acquired Verizon’s landlines in 2010.

At Frontier’s Florida Street location in Buckhannon, three Frontier employees and CWA union members, Dave Allen, Dan Collier and Chad Frye, said they were picketing in front of the Frontier building so the company doesn’t go behind their backs and assign decent-paying jobs to out-of-state contractors.

“When you call in to Frontier, you want to talk to someone in West Virginia,” said Allen, a cable splicer. “You don’t want to talk to someone in the Philippines. We want jobs here ­— good-paying jobs for our families here. The main issue is keeping work here. Keeping the employees we have, not getting contractors to do our jobs.”

Collier, a 16-year Frontier employee, says the strike isn’t about demanding higher wages but about demanding that jobs not be cut. He’s satisfied with his pay.

“It’s a good-paying job,” Collier said. “We can’t afford to lose anybody here. We’re getting a lot of support. A lot of people have been honking and waving, and we’ve had people stop by. We’ve even had some retirees that stopped here and gave us support.” 

At Frontier’s Dewberry Trail location near Clayton Homes along Route 33, Derek Taylor, an engineering assistant for Frontier, was picketing Monday afternoon with two other union members. Taylor said he’s genuinely afraid of losing his job.

“They want to bring in contractors to do our work,” Taylor said. “Basically, we’re almost on a skeleton crew because there’s just not enough of us right now to do the job.”

Taylor and two other Frontier employees, Tim Melton and Paul Golden, built a fire to keep warm. They also said the threat of fewer healthcare benefits and rising monthly premiums is part of the reason for the strike.

But Frontier Communications manager Andy Malinoski said if CWA had agreed to the proposed contract, they would have been able to enjoy just as much job security as they’ve always had.

The impasse, Malinoski said Tuesday, stems from a 15 percent difference between the amount of job security the union wants and the amount Frontier will agree to provide.

“They wanted 100 percent job security, and they had 85 percent job security,” Malinoski said. “We thought that was going to work out, but then right at the last moment, they went on strike. It was going to be a renewal of what they had.”

Job security, in this case, refers specifically to the percentage of positions Frontier agrees to retain — i.e. not cut.

“Frontier has offered a very generous package with continued job security for the great majority of the work force, minimal benefits changes and solid wage increases without asking for any significant concessions [from union workers],” Malinoski said. He also claimed the average annual wages for Frontier union employees exceeds $64,000, saying half of all union employees make more than $75,000 per year.

“For comprehensive medical family coverage, most employees pay less than $150 per month for family coverage, with no annual deductible and low co-pays,” Malinoski said.

But job security isn’t the only beef Frontier’s union employees have with the company. They say Frontier’s quality of service has dwindled. The March 4 CWA press release claims complaints to the West Virginia Public Service Commission have jumped 69 percent between 2014, when there were just 639, and 2017, when that number went up to 1,072.

Paugh, the local union president, said union employees want to be proud of the work they do, but right now, they’re stretched too thin.

“We’re also concerned about customer service,” Paugh said. “There’s not enough employees, and the ones there are, are not used effectively. There’s poor management of resources. They might be sending three people in one direction, and they end up criss-crossing each other.”

Malinoski said one reason for the spike in complaints is unavoidable natural disasters.

“A component of that is, while there has been an increase [in complaints], there are also other natural disasters that have contributed to that. In the last five to six months, that has changed dramatically. The fact is, there has been a significant investment in this network with them (CWA workers), and are we finished? No. But we’ll continue building and we’ll do that with or without them.”

Malinoski said Frontier, in partnership with CWA workers, has made enhancements to over 165,000 homes and businesses in the region to bring connections up to Federal Communications Commission regulations for the Connect America Fund in the last three years. Connect America is a program that provides supplemental funds to help telecommunications companies expand phone, internet and cable services to rural areas where it’s typically been cost-prohibitive to do so.

“Together, we’ve made major improvements in the network,” Malinoski said. “We are committed to our customers and will continue to invest and expand our network.”

For CWA workers to say that Frontier isn’t working to enhance its network is, at best, “disingenuous,” and at worst, “simply not true,” Malinoski said.

He did, however, acknowledge that when works needs to be done, Frontier has brought in out-of-state contractors.

“There are contractors that are used and have been used when work needs to be done,” Malinoski said.

During the work stoppage, Frontier has deployed its strike contingency plan, which involves members of the communication giant’s management team, outside contractors and representatives from other Frontier organizations stepping in to take the place of union employees.

Malinoski said he’s not sure when the strike will end since talks have come to a halt, and the ball is in CWA’s court.

“At the present, there are no talks going on, so that’s kind of up to them,” he said. “Together, we were making a difference. It’s unfortunate we’re in the situation we’re in.”

However, Paugh maintained his stance that the union’s demands are simple.

“We just want good-paying West Virginia jobs,” he said. “We live here. We work here. We play here. We spend our money here. We can do the job, so why not use the people that are here?” 

Residential customers with service questions may contact 800-921-8108, while business customers should call 800-921-8102.


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