Union attacks Frontier Communications for using contractors to install fiber optics | Panda Anku

The Communication Workers of America are launching a $500,000 national media lawsuit against Frontier Communications for using contractors instead of the company’s own employees to build out its fiber-optic Internet network.

Union officials announced Thursday the launch of a media campaign that will include billboards and TV ads during a news conference at the Hamden headquarters of CWA’s Local 1298.

“They employ contractors who don’t have the skills and commitment to the business that our members have,” said Dave Weidlich, President of Local 1298. “Internet service has become as important to this country as any utility. They try to do it cheaply and that’s where mistakes happen because the quality of the work just isn’t that good.”

Weidlich said the proof of the veracity of his claim is the $5 million fine that the Connecticut public utility regulator levied on Frontier for its contractors’ “reckless” installation of fiber optic cables. Joe Cooper, a spokesman for PURA, said Frontier paid the $5 million fine Wednesday and “as a result, has not requested a hearing regarding the disclosure of the violation.”

According to Cooper, Frontier is still working with PURA officials to have the company develop a plan to stop the problems with contractors from recurring. PURA rejected Frontier’s original oversight plan, which was filed Aug. 16, he said.

Company officials presented an amended plan Tuesday, which is currently under review, Cooper said.

Chrissy Murray, a spokeswoman for Frontier, said the company chose to pay the fine rather than contest PURA’s claims because “we cannot afford any further delay in delivering fiber to our Connecticut customers.” Murray said Frontier’s fiber optic network currently traverses over 450,000 homes and businesses in the state.

“Demand for this critical communications infrastructure is increasing by the day, so we have agreed to make this payment to expedite the delivery of additional fiber service to the state of Connecticut,” she said. “We are working collaboratively with PURA to address any outstanding issues with a comprehensive plan to ensure future compliance.”

US Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, speaking at Local 1298’s Thursday press conference, called Frontier’s fiber installation practices “shoddy and a threat to people’s ability to work remotely.”

“The government is spending billions of dollars across the country to accelerate the rollout of the fiber optic network, and that work should be done by the best-trained workers,” he said. “Some of my colleagues in the Senate are very concerned about this, and we will continue to fight to get the job done right.”

Murray said the demand for fiber optic cable installation is such that using contractors to supplement full-time employers is “an industry-wide practice”.

“We’re in the midst of a nationwide labor shortage trying to hire hundreds of new tech workers,” Murray said. “To achieve that, we need all of the above strategies.”

Frontier has now paid employees who refer workers to that company and ends up hiring $1,000, nearly triple what it used to be, she said.

The Norwalk-based telco is in the midst of a multi-year expansion of its fiber optic network in Connecticut and other states where it operates. Frontier announced its expansion plans in April 2021.

Frontier’s use of contractors in place of its own employees isn’t unique to Connecticut, Weidlich said. About 2,000 CWA members employed by Frontier in California walked out of their jobs last week to protest the company’s use of contractors in that state. Union members remain on strike, he said.

“This is a national model for them, using contract workers and not investing in good jobs,” he said.

Even though Frontier uses contractors, it offers hires to experienced workers trained to install fiber optic cables, Weidlich said. CWA had 2,200 members working for Frontier in Connecticut as of 2014; now 1,500 work for the company, he said.

Murray said using contractors to roll out Frontier’s fiber optic network is the most practical and efficient way to expedite installation work.

luther.turmelle@hearstmediat.com

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