An estimated 2,000 Frontier Communications workers went on strike Friday, protesting the company’s continued use of “inexperienced” subcontractors, saying it threatens their jobs and undermines customer service.
The Southern California workers, represented by Communications Workers of America, allege that the current level of subcontracting violates their contract with the telecommunications company.
Under the agreement, no more than 5% of Frontier’s workforce may be subcontractors, the union said.
“Our members are fed up,” said Frank Arce, vice president of District 9 of the CWA. “We are simply asking Frontier to respect the agreed safeguards that are included in our contract and we stand ready to remain on the picket line until our demands are met.”
Workers swarmed with pickets at more than 10 Frontier facilities in Southern California on Friday.
Based in Connecticut, the company provides telephone, television and high-speed Internet service to large portions of the Southland, including Santa Monica, Torrance, Long Beach, Lancaster, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino, Moreno Valley, Murrieta and Temecula areas.
The union said Frontier acknowledges they are violating the subcontracting limit but refuses to disclose current subcontracting levels. Frontier disagrees, saying information was provided to the union.
In a statement released Friday, Frontier said the issue had been “completely mischaracterized.”
“Like most companies, we use contractors to fill a gap while actively recruiting new talent in a tight job market,” the company said. “Other factors have also prompted us to hire more contractors than normal, such as weather-related repair issues, meeting PUC service requirements, and employees unwilling to work overtime.”
Frontier said it negotiated in good faith to achieve a fair deal for both sides. The company said it has plans in place to ensure the strike doesn’t affect customers.
Since April 16, the employees have been working without a contract. At that time, the extension of her previous employment contract (which expired in September 2021) expired.
CWA said “low-road subcontracting” has become increasingly common in the telecom industry. Airlines rely on “a vast network” of contractors to expand their networks and connect customers to broadband, the union said, often freeing up their own union employees from much of the work.
An October 2020 report by CWA cites AT&T as an example.
The report claims that AT&T has hired more than 700 contractors to build and maintain its network over the past four years. The CWA surveyed 1,500 AT&T technicians in its report and found that enterprise technicians who regularly work with subcontractors encounter persistent problems. 96% said the issues resulted in higher costs, 81% cited service issues for customers, and 57% said the issues resulted in safety risks for workers or the public.
Problems range from a faulty grounding system or properly secured wiring to avoid risk of electrocution to an AT&T subcontractor encountering a high-pressure gas line while installing utility poles.
Andi Balentine, a local business support specialist at Frontier and executive vice president of CWA Local 9575, said there are similar issues in Southern California.
“When subcontractors run fiber optic cable, sometimes it doesn’t work, so we have to send one of our technicians to fix it,” said the 49-year-old Camarillo resident. “When you’re not being trained by the company and you’re dealing with company-specific systems… that makes it difficult.”
Frontier filed for bankruptcy in April 2020 after telling investors that its financial woes and customer losses were caused by “significant underinvestment in fiber deployment and limited enterprise product offerings.”
The filing marks “the end of an era in which Frontier Communications racked up approximately $17.5 billion in debt as part of an aggressive expansion campaign that transformed it into one of the largest telecom companies in the country,” The Wall Street Journal reported .
The company has expanded over the years in part by purchasing former landline operations from Verizon and AT&T.
Frontier emerged from bankruptcy in May 2021 and plans to double its fiber optic cabling to an additional 3 million homes and businesses.