Workers at Frontier Communications in West Virginia are on strike.
The 1400 striking Frontier workers are members if the Communication Workers of America (CWA). They walked off their jobs on March 4 because they want their new collective bargaining agreement to include job security protections for all union members.
Union members also want Frontier to keep promises that it made to customers when it acquired the state’s telecommunications system from Verizon in 2010.
“Frontier promised West Virginians that they would continue to provide the high quality service that is critical for families and businesses across the state,” said Ed Mooney, vice president of Communications Workers (CWA) of America District 2-13. “Instead, what we have seen is a sharp increase in customer complaints that has coincided with job cuts. There are simply not enough employees to get the job done.”
The CWA bargaining team began negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with Frontier ten months ago.
After nearly a year of bargaining, the company was willing to guarantee job protections for 85 percent of union members, but the union wanted job protections for all members.
Union members say that job protections and quality services go hand in hand.
Frontier acquired West Virginia’s telecommunication system from Verizon in 2010 and at the time promised to invest in the state’s local workforce and its telecommunication system.
But instead, the company eliminated 500 good-paying, middle class jobs, a 27.5 percent reduction in its workforce.
Half of those job cuts have come since January 2017.
In December, about the same time that Frontier learned that it would be getting a substantial tax cut, the company announced its plan to eliminate 50 more jobs.
While Frontier has been eliminating good-paying union jobs, the work load has not declined, and the company is using lower-paid non-union contractors to pick up the slack.
As the company relies more on inexperienced contractors, customer service complaints have increased substantially.
The union’s review of informal customer service complaints filed with the West Virginia Public Service Commission found that complaints against Frontier increased by 69 percent between 2014 and 2017 going from 639 in 2014 to 1072 in 2017.
“”Customers are waiting way too long to have their problems resolved, and too often we’re back fixing the same problems over and over again,” said John Bailey, president of CWA Local 2276 in Bluefield. “Frontier is leaving West Virginia behind. The network has been neglected and there are just not enough experienced, well-trained workers left to handle the service requests.”
Since the strike began, Frontier has been trying to maintain service by importing out-of-state contractors to serve as replacement workers.
One of the out-of-state contractors was detained by police after he brandished a gun at striking workers as they walked their picket line.
Despite the actions of one disgruntled contractor, striking Frontier workers have been receiving widespread support locally and throughout the US.
During a recess on the final day of the state Legislature’s session, a busload of Democratic lawmakers joined a Charleston picket line of striking Frontier workers.
Earlier in the week, Frontier received a letter from Kent Carper, president of the Kanawha County Commission.
In his letter, Carper wrote that he was disappointed with Frontier.
When Frontier began operating West Virginia, wrote Carper, it made promises to the community, but the company “failed to live up to its promises.”
Carper requested a meeting with company officials “to discuss this work stoppage and offer my assistance to resolve it.”
In addition to these elected officials, other unions and union members from all over the US are supporting striking Frontier workers.
During the first week of the strike, members of International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 10, SEIU Virginia Local 512, CWA Local 2201, CWA locals from Virginia and Maryland, and UAW locals joined Frontier picket lines.
United Food and Commercial Workers locals 1776 and 23 whose members live and work in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia sent a letter pledging support for the striking workers and their customers.
A number of unions including CWA locals all over the country and United Mine Workers of America locals 1924, 1620, and 1332 from the Navajo Nation posted messages of support on Facebook.
And union members and other supporters from all over the country have been making contributions to the strikers’ Solidarity Fund, which helps striking workers meet the financial responsibilities during the strike.
In a statement issued on March 9, Mooney said that Frontier, which has already agreed to job security protections for 85 percent of its union employees, could end the strike by extending the same protections to just 200 more of its union workers.
“We are asking them to make a commitment on job security for 200 of their employees to close this deal,” Mooney said. “They have no problem making a commitment to 200 scabs, many of them from out of state, in order to try to undermine our strike. Why not commit to their own employees, some of whom have been with the company for 40 years or more?”