ARIZONA -- Over a year after a small unit of Frontier Communications workers on the Navajo Nation in Arizona & New Mexico voted to form a union with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) in the face of an aggressive, expensive union busting campaign from the company, they are still stuck at the bargaining table trying to come to an agreement on a first contract with the Connecticut-based telecom.
In its recent proposals, Frontier Communications has offered the 33 workers, all Navajo or Hopi, almost $2 per hour less than what workers in surrounding states have received in recent contracts, and is refusing to guarantee a full 40-hour work week. Meanwhile, because they have been working without a bargaining agreement, the workers did not receive a yearly wage increase during the pandemic in 2020. A 1.75% wage increase for all workers would have cost Frontier Communications just over $40,000 in total.
In a joint letter sent today from the Arizona Corporation Commission’s Sandra Kennedy and Ann Tovar, the two commissioners expressed concerns that other nearby Frontier employees have guarantees of full-time employment in their contracts and that workers on the Navajo Nation were “being treated differently than their counterparts across Arizona.”
The commissioners also questioned Frontier’s ability to meet its commitments to broadband deployment in Arizona without full-time employment for workers, calling the decision “confusing.” In the letter, the commissioners cited Frontier Communication’s own recent compliance filings indicating its Connect America Fund (CAF) project was behind schedule, particularly within the Navajo Nation, and that the company had made effectively no progress on non-CAF broadband building since at least August 2020.
“There are no other service providers competing to build out and expand access on the Navajo Nation,” said Ron Fagan, President of CWA Local 7019 in Show Low. “Frontier should be investing in the region, not trying to nickel and dime these workers or send them home without pay if they think there’s no work. There’s always work to be done. Our union stands with them and they deserve the same wages that other technicians across Arizona and New Mexico make.”
Frontier Communications emerged from bankruptcy just this month, and in the company’s "Modernization Plan" released in December 2020, neither Arizona or the Navajo Nation are identified as receiving any new fiber deployment. Broadband access has been a large part of the COVID-19 recovery and infrastructure conversation, and this issue is particularly severe in the Navajo Nation, where over half of the 110 Navajo communities lack any broadband access at residences.