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News : Frontier Adding Hundreds of Jobs
Oct 24, 2014 -- Frontier Communications is hiring more than 300 new unionized workers as it takes on the wireline business of AT&T in Connecticut.
Many of the new employees replace members of the Communications Workers of America who retired or otherwise left this year, a spate of exits that accelerated after Frontier and AT&T announced their deal in December. But many others are new — in technical support, sales, construction and two operations returning to Connecticut: dispatch and a customer call center.
It's all part of a honeymoon agreement between CWA Local 1298 and Frontier, a Stamford-based company that specializes in local phone and other telecom services in 28 states.
Frontier will have five area offices in Connecticut, including its northeast headquarters in New Haven, the hometown of the old Southern New England Telecommunications Corp. SNET merged into Texas-based SBC Corp. in 1998; SBC later acquired AT&T and took the AT&T name.
CWA has about 2,100 members at AT&T who are moving to Frontier, down from a total of 2,348 as of April 17. In a deal with the union, Frontier agreed to restore that larger number by April 2015. The hiring is well underway, including, for example, training at the new dispatch center in New Haven.
To sweeten the deal further, Frontier agreed to hire an additional 85 union employees in specific positions, most of them by April 17, including 35 at the dispatch center.
It's been a wild ride for CWA and its firebrand president, Bill Henderson, who fought AT&T repeatedly over job eliminations and the removal of work from Connecticut, including the old dispatch operation in Meriden. Local 1298 was the last CWA unit in the United States to reach a contract with AT&T, holding out under an expired pact for more than a year until mid-2013.
Henderson saves some of his harshest expletives for AT&T's outsourcing of line repair work to nonunion, out-of-state contractors, contrasting that with Frontier.
"Frontier says, 'That's not the way we do business, we're going to let union members do this work,'" Henderson said. "AT&T, to maximize their profits, they looked at service and overhead. Now Frontier said, 'No, our focus is on service.'"
Brigid Smith, a Frontier spokeswoman, said the company values the idea of local call responses. "When you say, 'It's snowing, my line is down,' they'll say, 'Oh my God, it is snowing. We'll be right out there.'"
It wasn't an easy courtship. In May, after tense talks with Frontier and AT&T, Henderson declared that Frontier was set to eliminate as many as 1,000 jobs. He vowed to block the sale, even traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with officials there. Frontier said at the time that it was a misunderstanding. Henderson now agrees that it was, and he blames AT&T.
Separately, Frontier is taking on management and nonunion employees from AT&T. That number, determined by AT&T, was not clear Friday but was expected to be about 300 at the time of the announcement last December.
AT&T, which retains its wireless business in Connecticut as well as some other commercial services, will have about 1,900 employees in Connecticut. AT&T was never able to successfully bundle wireless with in-home wireline services, so the separation should not be a significant issue for consumers.
If history is a guide, the CWA-Frontier partnership will face difficult tests. Frontier said it will pare about millions year from expenses — not by layoffs, but by operating more efficiently and eliminating corporate overhead costs.
While doing that, Frontier must keep up with fierce competition from cable operators Comcast and Cox, among others, at a time when many households are abandoning their old basic wireline telephone service, and many others are bundling their phone service with cable TV and Internet through the cable providers.
The cable firms haven't exactly held the line on prices, so consumers will have to hope that Frontier is able to force the issue with its combination of service and self-declared efficiency. That's easier said than done at a time of costly technology wars and rising TV programming costs, especially for sports.
Frontier is buying the U-verse bundled franchise of phone, Internet and TV in Connecticut but will not use the U-verse name for all three services. Residential customers will see no rise in prices for at least three years under approval conditions of the state's Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. And, Smith said, customers do not need to make any other changes, such as switching out their AT&T cable boxes and routers.
How it affects customers remains to be seen, but it seems clear that there are major cultural differences in the way the centralized AT&T and the localized Frontier operate. Maggie Wilderotter, the Frontier chairman and CEO, talked about the company's culture in a written release after the deal closed Friday morning.
"We look forward to bringing our local engagement management model to Connecticut and empowering all Frontier employees to provide high-quality service to their friends and neighbors and to become active contributors to their communities," she said.
The old days when SNET had 6,500 CWA members saturating the state will never return, of course. But the hope at the CWA union offices in Hamden is that the shrinking of membership is over. That depends on Frontier's ability to succeed, starting Friday, using a local service model that AT&T was slowly dismantling.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
Today's Tip of the Day - Back To The Basics
More Editorial From Frontier Communications
About Frontier Communications:
Frontier Communications Corporation (NASDAQ: FTR) offers voice, broadband, satellite video, wireless Internet data access, data security solutions, bundled offerings and specialized bundles for residential customers, small businesses and home offices and advanced business communications for medium and large businesses in 27 states. Frontier’s approximately 15,400 employees are based entirely in the United States.
Recognized as a worldwide provider of IP-based communications services to businesses, AT&T is also a provider of wireless, high speed Internet access, Wi-Fi, local and long distance voice, and directory publishing and advertising services.
Published: Monday, October 27, 2014