Flckr/Creative Commons photo by Mike Mozart.
A group of Frontier employees represented by Savanah, Ga., Local 508 approved a first contract with the company last year.  

After 38 years in the telecom industry and 35 years as an IBEW member in his native Illinois, Randy Phillips wasn’t quite ready to call it a retirement when he left AT&T in 2011. He came from a strong union family with a tradition of fighting for working people.

Josh Parker, a Frontier technician in suburban Atlanta and one
of the leaders in a successful organizing effort for Local 508.

He got his chance in the Deep South. After Phillips’ wife successfully beat cancer, the couple decided to move to Georgia, thinking warmer weather would be good for her health. He landed a job as a technician for Frontier Communications in Statesboro, about 55 miles west of Savannah, in 2016.

The job paid well, but it was nonunion and offered little protection in case of layoffs or if Frontier was sold or merged with another company, a scenario all too common in the telecommunications industry. So, Phillips had some advice for his colleagues.

“We need a union and the IBEW is the best fit for us,” he said.

“I told them, ‘The writing is on the wall, guys; now is the time to do it.’ … The average age for us is right around 50 years old. You need to protect yourself. The company can come in any day and say, ‘We don’t need you anymore. You have no recourse.’”

It also didn’t hurt when a co-worker saw Phillips at his desk one day writing out his IBEW membership dues check so he remained eligible for a pension program. That was a visible sign of the value of union representation.

“If you decide to vote this in, which I am heavily recommending you do, you will have a voice at work,” he told his fellow technicians.

Those workers voted 14-0 to seek IBEW representation in 2017 and then voted 14-0 late in 2018 for a first contract, becoming members of Savannah Local 508. Phillips is now the steward for the 14 workers, who are based in Statesboro and at another Frontier location in suburban Atlanta. Fellow Frontier technician Josh Parker handled many of the organizing duties at the suburban Atlanta location.

Fifth District International Representative Clay Leon, the lead negotiator with Frontier, said the new contract guarantees improvements in company-administered health care plans. The biggest win, however, came with the addition of an arbitration system, which allows employees to file a grievance if they feel like they have been unfairly disciplined. Language also was included on how to handle potential layoffs.

“That was very important to them,” Leon said. “They wanted the right to a grievance procedure and arbitration. As a nonunion company, they had no recourse against discipline.”

Randy Phillips, a Frontier technician and longtime IBEW
 member who now is serving as a steward for Local 508.

Local 508 is primarily an inside local, and the newly organized Frontier employees are its first telecommunications members. Business Manager Alton Mosley said he was happy to welcome them to the IBEW. He will rely heavily on Phillips for guidance.

“It’s an adjustment, but when you have a chance to grow the Brotherhood, you don’t say ‘no,’” Mosley said. “I’m thankful I had Clay to lean on during contract negotiations. He’s been through this before. Having a steward like Randy who knows the value of IBEW membership and how to deal with management on site will make my job easier, too.”

It was the third win in as many years at Frontier for IBEW members in the Deep South. Last April, a group of 26 technicians in southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle approved a first contract and became members of Pensacola, Fla., Local 676. In 2016, a group of 11 Frontier technicians became members of Cookeville, Tenn., Local 1987.

“This is a another sign the IBEW can organize in southern states,” said Robert Prunn, an international representative in the Broadcasting & Telecommunications Department. “Workers are seeking out IBEW representation more and more across the country. Clay, Alton and Randy worked hard to reach an agreement that provides added security for our new members well into the future.”

Phillips is pleased his co-workers will learn what he’s known for decades: that IBEW representation makes things better on the job for everyone.

“The IBEW has always protected their people and their membership,” said Phillips, who had been a member of Alton, Ill., Local 649. “It’s a big win for our guys.”