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Frontier workers picket outside Huntington Beach office for better pay, job security

Communications Workers of America (CWA) employees picket outside the Huntington Beach Frontier office on Thursday.
Communications Workers of America (CWA) employees on Thursday picket outside the Huntington Beach Frontier office to protest stalled contract negotiations.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

As union representatives negotiate with Frontier Communications for better pay, benefits and job security for nearly 2,000 members statewide, Orange County employees took their grievances against the company to the streets during a picket Thursday in Huntington Beach.

Workers with the union’s Orange County chapter assembled outside a local Frontier office on the corner of Gothard Street and Slater Avenue to voice concerns about increasing healthcare premiums and the company’s hiring of less skilled contract workers.

Peter O’Brien, president of CWA Local 9510, said employees agreed last September amid the pandemic and a corporate bankruptcy to extend their contract by one year to allow business to continue. Though talks began in August, that extension expired Sept. 4.

Anticipating that would happen, union members voted Sept. 3 to authorize a strike. O’Brien said while there are no definitive plans for such action, the vote allows a strike to be called at any time.

Members of the Communications Workers of America Local 9510 picket outside the Huntington Beach Frontier office on Thursday.
Members of the Communications Workers of America Local 9510 on Thursday picket outside the Huntington Beach Frontier office to demand better pay and job security as contract negotiations lag.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“We’re on standby, and we will be driven by what happens in bargaining,” he added. “Nobody likes a strike — it’s not something that we seek. What we seek is fairness and a recognition of what our members have gone through.”

Fountain Valley resident Tom Gardella began working for the company 32 years ago, when it was owned by General Telephone & Electronics. As a cable splicer, he works on the company’s aging copper wire network and handles fiber optic cable, a new technology upon which Frontier hopes to expand.

While fiber requires a skilled and careful hand, Gardella said Frontier is hiring more contract workers who don’t provide the same level of service and whose work can create problems.

“The company would prefer to work with all contractors,” he said. “[But] the contractors aren’t as invested as the employees. We’re in it for the quality because we’re in this for the long term. They’re in it for the piece-work.”

A Communications Workers of America employee wears a dinosaur costume outside the Huntington Beach Frontier office Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Don Ruiz, a staff representative for CWA’s District 9 and bargaining co-chair, said Frontier has begun farming out tens of thousands of customer service call center work to Mexico, despite advertising to customers that its service representatives are “100% U.S. based.”

Union reps have also not reached an agreement with Frontier on pay raises and health insurance premiums. While Ruiz could not discuss proposals considered so far, he indicated premium increases far outweigh the pay increases proposed by the company.

“They’re still not really taking care of the employees the way they need to be taken care of,” he said. “They’ve stuck with the company through the bankruptcy and through [COVID-19]. They’ve stayed loyal but there’s been nothing to say ‘thank you.’”

Gardella said workers hope to garner support from the public, whom employees helped keep connected during the pandemic.

Local employees unionized by CWA march down Slater Avenue in front of the Huntington Beach Frontier office on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Brigid Smith, a spokeswoman for Frontier Communications, confirmed Thursday employees were working without a contract as negotiations continued.

“Employee wages, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment that are required by law to continue will remain in effect during this time,” Smith wrote in an email. “We remain committed to a resolution that offers our employees good jobs with competitive wages and benefits and cares for the long-term success of our business.”

Thursday’s demonstration is one of several being planned in the coming days. O’Brien said union members will turn out next weekend to the 2021 Grand Prix of Long Beach, as Frontier is one of the event’s sponsors.

“All we’re looking for is a fair contract and some respect,” he said.

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