Consolidated poised to dodge strike with CWA, IBEW deals

Consolidated Communications reached tentative agreements with two labor unions representing approximately 900 workers in New England, putting it in position to avoid a strike as its fiber deployment effort gains steam.

In late July, employees represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) voted to authorize a strike against the operator. Among their complaints, the workers accused Consolidated of “hiring too many outside contractors” and said it had been “bargaining in bad faith” since March in negotiations for a new contract to replace a three-year agreement which expired on August 7, 2021.

But before a strike was implemented, Consolidated announced on Sunday the parties had come to terms. Consolidated CEO Bob Udell said in a statement the pair of deals “reflect our mutual commitment to progress and the bright future we have together.” He added “the new four-year contracts with the IBEW and the CWA offer competitive benefits and investment in employees and an increased commitment to maintain jobs in Northern New England.”

Both contracts are subject to approval by CWA and IBEW members.

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The move to avoid a strike comes as Consolidated Communications’ fiber deployment gains steam. The operator is aiming to hit 300,000 new fiber locations in 2021, adding 76,000 passings in Q2 primarily in New England, California and Texas.

In recent months, operators have repeatedly cited concerns about labor shortages as massive fiber deployments get underway, making a potential strike a real threat. In recent years, larger rival AT&T faced a brief but massive strike of 20,000 workers in 2019, while Verizon took a hit to its Q2 results in 2016 after CWA and IBEW workers participated in a 45-day protest.

On the operator’s recent Q2 earnings call, however, Consolidated CEO Bob Udell expressed confidence in its position. “I don't see any labor shortage that's impacting us in the foreseeable future,” he stated.