TAMPA — Frontier Communications Corp. reached a tentative agreement late last week with the union representing a majority of its Tampa Bay employees. The camps have been going back and forth for nearly two years on a new work contract. Deteriorating negotiations just weeks before led members to approve a motion to strike if they could not find common ground.
The talks overlap with the company’s ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization process, during which it gave executives $63 million in bonuses.
“We just want to be made whole like the executives have been made whole,” said Keith LaPlant, union president.
Frontier did not respond to calls and emails requesting comment.
The local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represents 1,524 people in central Florida, 1,400 of whom are Frontier employees. Union members account for more than 90 percent of the cable and internet company’s Tampa Bay employees, LaPlant said, and many have been with the company since before Frontier took over Verizon’s Florida operations.
Frontier’s contract with its union workers ended in 2019 and has been extended several times as the two sides hashed out specifics.
Negotiations hinged on several sticking points, LaPlant said. Among the most important to members was retirement benefits. Under the expiring contract, retired union members and their dependents have health care coverage for the member’s entire life. But the proposed agreement caps that coverage when the employee becomes eligible for Medicare benefits, which would take health care away if a retired employee’s spouse is younger.
“That’s the reason we’re not giving it a 100 percent yes,” LaPlant said. “That one was a little tough to swallow.”
Another is job security. Frontier’s union workers cannot be laid off or demoted, which would continue through the end of the year if the proposal is accepted. After that, Frontier would need to go through a process to remove a union employee, giving that person time to find other employment.
Union workers also would give up 10 percent of their retirement account match under the new agreement and were unsuccessful in getting a clause that would guarantee pay during quarantine if an employee was required to isolate for an illness such as COVID-19.
The group did count a handful of wins, LaPlant said, such as a 2 percent annual pay raise, including retroactively to 2019.
The union did not recommend which way its members should vote. If approved, the proposed contract would last through July 2023. Members are expected to vote on the contract before mid-May.