Photo Caption: Frontier Communications employees and members of the IBEW 363 union Kathy Howell of Canajoharie, left, Carla Gagliano of Mayfield, center, and Terri Knapik of Amsterdam protest the recent contract offer from their employer at Sir William Johnson Park on Saturday. STAN HUDY/THE LEADER-Herald
JOHNSTOWN – Carla Gagliano pumped her fist in the air and smiled at the driver of the truck as they drove through the light at the intersection of West Main Street and North Market Street Saturday morning.
Gagliano was one of five IBEW 363 union members employed by Frontier Communications standing at the intersection with signs protesting the company’s recent contract offer since 10 a.m.
“It’s disheartening you have to fight to have fair stuff,” said the 22-year Frontier employee. “Companies should be looking out for people who make it what it is.”
Gagliano works in executive escalation, handling complaints from agencies.
The group decided to stage their protest at Sir William Johnson Park because there are two call centers not far from the park on South Williams Street and on Harrison Street.
“A lot of people know Frontier because it’s their carrier,” said union member Terri Knapik — wearing a sign laying out the contract offered and turned down.
Union members from the Johnstown unit had a ratification meeting in mid-October.
During that meeting, the company offered union members a three-year deal with no union medical coverage, no job security and a 1.75% raise for the first two years and 2% raise in the third. It also included an increase in medical costs for employees.
Gagliano had a sign around her neck that read “Honk 2 support.” That was followed by red check marks next to the three items the union members want in their contract with the company: job security, a fair raise and affordable medical coverage.
The sign ended with “We worked thru bankruptcy + pandemic — show us loyalty.”
Knapik said the previous contract, which ended in October 2020, didn’t offer affordable medical coverage or job security, but did offer a 2% raise annually between the time it was signed in 2016 and when it ended.
But things have changed with the company since the last contract, said Amy Beadle and Mickie Rickard, workers who drove down to join the protest from Norwich.
Their unit and another in Middletown are part of IBEW 363 as well.
Beadle and Rickard said union members stayed loyal to the company when it went through changes due to a bankruptcy and due to the pandemic, which saw the closure of offices in the U.S. and more work distributed among remaining employees.
When U.S. offices get shut down, “that work still has to get done,” Rickard said.
That means overtime and lots of it, according to Beadle.
“They offer it almost on a daily basis,” she said.
In September employees at the Johnstown office worked overtime every day. In October, some days overtime meant working until 9 p.m., Knapik said.
On top of that, the 350 union members don’t believe the wages they’re receiving for all the extra work is fair.
Knapik said unions in other states, like California, were able to get the stipulations the IBEW 363 was asking for in their contracts.
“It’s almost like the company is laughing in our face,” Rickard said.
According to Beadle, she’s given a lot to the company over the years, including giving up an hour of a week about 12 years ago because the company was facing money issues then.
“It doesn’t sound like a lot but it is a lot,” she said about the diminished pay.
Rickard said it’s just been little things here and there that the company has done or taken away that have caused union members to become unhappy.
For example, Rickard said the union asked to have Veterans Day as a holiday, something that management employees receive, and the company said no, even though it prides itself on hiring veterans.
She said maybe union members would have a bit of an easier time giving up smaller perks, like getting Veterans Day off, if the company assured them they’d keep their jobs for years to come.
“Things like that are just hard pills to swallow when the company isn’t giving us reassurance,” she said.
All of the protesters couldn’t believe it had gotten this far with the company.
“We’re begging this company for job security to work for them,” Beadle said.
Knapik said they have three chances to vote on a contract, and if that doesn’t happen, then a mediation could be called in to settle the issue. However, Gagliano said 96% of the union members have already voted to strike if the contract problem isn’t resolved.
Kathy Howell, the union’s vice president and one of its negotiators, was also at the protest. She said she couldn’t talk about where discussions stood because she needed to remain neutral.
The next meeting on a contract is scheduled for Dec. 11.