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Frontier workers rally before contract talks

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- About 150 members of the Communications Workers of America and other unions rallied in front of Frontier Communications offices in Kanawha City on Thursday to support upcoming contract negotiations.

Many CWA workers wore red T-shirts with a variety of slogans, including: "We Won't Go Backwards," "United We Bargain, Divided We Beg" and "The Longer The Picket Line, The Shorter The Strike."

Elaine Harris, CWA's international representative in West Virginia, said, "Contract negotiations are a critical time for employees and these rallies let our members know we are there for them."

Harris also praised retired CWA members at the rally. "You are the trailblazers. You paved the way for us."

Negotiated with Verizon in 2008, the current contract that covers 1,600 West Virginia workers is scheduled to expire Aug. 2. Verizon workers became Frontier employees in 2010, when Frontier bought Verizon's landlines in West Virginia and 13 other states.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, sent a letter to the rally, read by Harris. "You are the working men and women who keep this state and our country running I am confident that a fair contract will ultimately be reached.

"These jobs are important," Manchin concluded. "I wish both the CWA and Frontier the best."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Rep. Nick J. Rahall, both D-W.Va., also sent statements supporting the union.

Ken Hall, international secretary-treasurer for the Teamsters, asked CWA workers gathered outside Frontier's headquarters: "Are you ready to fight for a fair contract? We are in an era when corporate America is trying to scare everybody.

"Your company had about $5 billion in general revenue last year. Your CEO made $6 million last year and he got a raise in March. If they can give him a raise, they can give a raise to you people right here."

Hall mentioned his role leading six recent months of negotiations to win new contracts with United Parcel Service covering 240,000 workers.

"The company was stonewalling us for four months. Nothing happened until we held rallies across the country. In the next two months, we were able to get a good contract.

"Tell your co-workers: 'You need to be here too.'" Hall said. "You have the complete support of more than 1.3 million members of the Teamsters union across the country."

Ron Collins, CWA's national chief of staff, agreed.

"It doesn't matter if you have a dozen Einsteins at the bargaining table or a dozen monkeys. The contract is going to be won in the field," he said.

Dana Waldo, senior vice president and general manager of Frontier in West Virginia, said, "Frontier provides its employees with very competitive wages and benefits. Frontier once again will bargain in good faith, just as it has done in recent negotiations that led to contract ratifications in West Virginia with CWA Locals 2276 and 2001 and IBEW [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers] Local 317."

During the past three years, Frontier has invested nearly $300 million to improve West Virginia's communications infrastructure. "We remain committed to that task," Waldo said.   

Josh Sword, secretary-treasurer of the West Virginia AFL-CIO who attended the rally, said, "I am proud to be here in support of the CWA as they move forward in the negotiation process with Frontier.

"They bring morale and encouragement to their members as they go into what could be tough negotiations," Sword said.

Edward Mooney, vice president of CWA District 2-13, said, "Contract negotiations can be a stressful time for our members, so we are out here today to show we have their backs 100 percent."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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