Tampa Frontier workers will picket and fly plane near Super Bowl in protest over contract negotiations

The disagreement is over health benefits.

click to enlarge Tampa Frontier workers will picket and fly plane near Super Bowl in protest over contract negotiations

On Super Bowl Sunday, Frontier Communications workers will hold a demonstration near Raymond James Stadium to protest what they say is an unfair labor contract.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union 824 and its supporters will gather at Al Lopez Park’s Cancer Survivor’s Plaza from 11 a.m-4 p.m. to protest a labor contract that Frontier is offering them. Because parking and navigation are so hectic during the Super Bowl, the group is inviting supporters to park at its union hall—located at 6603 E Chelsea St. in Tampa near the intersection of Interstates 4 and 75—to ride a continuously running shuttle to and from the demonstration.

Negotiations over the contract between IBEW 824 and Frontier have not been going well, according to the union. The union’s current contract expires on April 16, which means the union and Frontier must reach an agreement before then. 

Frontier, a telecommunications company based in Connecticut that offers service in 25 states, is involved in the negotiations with the union at the same time that it is in the process of restructuring due to filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April of 2020. The company currently has 17,300 employees, according to its website.

IBEW 824 President Keith LaPlant says that Frontier brought two proposals about healthcare to the bargaining table. One of the proposals aims to nearly double the percentage that active employees pay for healthcare. The other is to remove healthcare coverage from employees during retirement. 

“When you give the best years of your life to a company, you expect a dignified, secure retirement,” LaPlant says. 

LaPlant explains that under previous contracts, the longer an employee works at Frontier, the more of the retiree’s healthcare the company would pay for. For example, if an employee works at the company for 30-plus years and retires at 60 years old, Frontier would cover 90% of their retirement healthcare, while the retiree pays the rest, often until they become Medicare eligible at 65. In the current proposal, Frontier is aiming to remove the retiree health benefit completely. 

At a recent contract negotiation meeting, union negotiators said they would “picket”—a protest tactic used by upset employees to express their disdain for a company’s practice—if a suitable contract was not presented. Frontier representatives didn’t budge, so the union has decided to protest at the Super Bowl.

Creative Loafing Tampa Bay reached out to Frontier to receive input on the contract negotiations.

“Frontier Communications is currently negotiating a new labor contract with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Local 824. We value our partnership with the Union and appreciate the work our employees do to serve our customers,” Bob Elek, Director of Public Relations for Frontier Communications, Southeast region said in an email. “Our scheduled negotiations with union leadership toward a fair labor contract will continue in collective bargaining sessions that take place directly between our parties.” 

LaPlant and other union members say that what Frontier is offering the workers does not show that Frontier values them.

“They want to gut this healthcare in the middle of a pandemic,” LaPlant says. “And they want people who gave their lives to the company to take their healthcare out of their retirement savings.”

The union believes that Frontier is failing them, so much so that they’ve also hired a plane to fly over the Raymond James Stadium area Friday through Sunday on Super Bowl weekend. The plane will be carrying a banner with the message, “Frontier fails essential workers”. 

Frontier field technicians go into homes, businesses, hospitals and other places which put them at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. LaPlant says that some have contracted COVID-19 while working. Injuries can range from lacerations to snake bites in the field. Network technicians work inside and aren’t exposed to the same dangers, but their work, especially during the pandemic, has been crucial. Keeping the network going means that people can participate in virtual schooling, working from home and telehealth visits, among many other necessities. 

“As essential workers, we are required to enter customers’ dwellings and places of business to keep people connected during this deadly pandemic,” says Norwood Orrick, field technician for Frontier and IBEW 824 member. “The boss says we don’t have to go inside anywhere we don’t feel safe. But my union gives me the actual power to work safely without fear of repercussions.”

LaPlant says that concentrating the picket on the Super Bowl is a strategic tactic, because Frontier is corporate partners with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Raymond James Stadium, and the company is expected to have a marketing presence at the Super Bowl. He says that he’s not trying to take away from the Bucs making it to the big game, he and other union members are Bucs fans. Many of them will be watching the game after the picket. But for them, the situation is just too ideal to pass up.

“We’re lucky enough to have a union that gives us a voice,” LaPlant says. “So we better take this opportunity to use it in front of a large audience.”

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