As the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) considers Frontier Communications of Connecticut (SNET)'s proposed bankruptcy reorganization plan, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) submitted an opening brief today asking the Authority to impose conditions to make sure the bankruptcy plan enables SNET to improve service quality for consumers and preserve good jobs in Connecticut.
CWA is the labor union that represents more than 1,600 Frontier employees working as technicians and call center representatives in Connecticut. CWA technicians have watched in frustration as Frontier has failed to invest in its network and workforce in recent years, leading to the declining condition of Frontier's Connecticut plant. Significant cuts in staffing have meant fewer technicians in the field to provide critical maintenance and respond to customer issues.
In April of 2016, CWA represented 2,397 employees in Connecticut. Over the last four years, the company has cut 740 positions, a full 30% of the unit. This failed strategy has taken a toll on the quality of service Frontier is able to offer Connecticut customers and contributed to the bankruptcy reorganization that is now before PURA.
"The CWA members who work at Frontier know firsthand what the company needs to do to come out of this bankruptcy process stronger and ready to provide quality service to its customers," said CWA Local 1298 President Dave Weidlich. "That's why we want to make sure that PURA uses its oversight process to hold Frontier accountable to its consumers and workers - not Wall Street hedge funds like Elliott Management that only care about making a quick buck."
CWA's brief, available here, raises serious concerns about the future of the company under its new proposed owners. According to the proposed bankruptcy plan, four investment firms will own between 20% and 28% of the new company: Elliott Management, Franklin Mutual, Golden Tree Asset Management, and HG Vora. These firms have a track record of extracting short-term profits at the expense of investment and long-term growth. In 2019, Elliott Management launched a shareholder campaign at AT&T to gut thousands of good union jobs and authorize $30 billion in stock buybacks. The firm recently dumped its AT&T shares after implementing its destructive plan.
CWA's brief lays out recommendations for PURA that would enhance SNET's ability to invest in Connecticut's future; enable SNET to maintain and improve the safety, quality, and reliability of service it offers to homes and businesses in Connecticut; and maintain SNET as a provider of high-quality, family-supporting jobs in Connecticut. CWA is asking for PURA to:
"Impose strict, enforceable conditions that require the profits and cash flow generated in Connecticut to be reinvested in Connecticut's network" (p. 16) which "should be coupled with service quality and employment requirements to ensure no further deterioration in SNET's services, and that SNET has adequate personnel to serve its customers and properly maintain and upgrade its facilities" (p. 17).
"In particular, SNET should be required to maintain the current level of capital spending and in-state employment at least through 2024 (the period covered by the financial projections that are part of the restructuring plan). The Authority also should consider requiring approval of any acquisitions or divestitures by Frontier in other jurisdictions" (p.17)