UnFairPoint? Telecom Co Wants to Slash Pay, Benefits, Has Rejected 65 Proposals from Unions

As of midnight on August 2nd, the six-year contract between FairPoint Communications, 1,700 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) members, and 300 Communications Workers of America (CWA) workers expired. Though negotiations ran to the final hour of the contract, the two sides were simply too far apart to make a deal for the Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont-based workers. They agreed to move forward with negotiations.  

This is somewhat surprising, considering the unions have had a whopping 65 proposals rejected by management. They also say FairPoint has used some heavy-handed tactics throughout the process.

“In addition to posting new 'no trespassing' signs and spray-painting strike lines on the pavement at many company locations, management went as far as housing strike-breaking replacement workers at the same hotel where bargaining is taking place — an open and hostile attempt to intimidate union leaders,” a press release claims.

FairPoint Communications has stated that it wants the workers to make major concessions on pensions, retiree medical for active employees, and subcontracting. The union argues that FairPoint’s proposals seek to freeze workers’ pensions, weaken their seniority rights, increase outsourcing, reduce health care coverage and wages, and eliminate retiree health care for active employees.  

Workers in all three states authorized a strike in July, but Mike Spillane, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2326 told VTdigger that a strike was not iminent:

“There are 50 reasons we could go to strike — if the company were to try to put us at an impasse, if they refused to negotiate,” he said. “As long as we have an opportunity to go back to the table, we figured we’d rather negotiate this rather than put our workers out on the street.”

IBEW Local 2327 Business Manager Peter McLaughlin is thinking similarly positive:

“We are committed to coming to terms with FairPoint for a contract that builds, rather than undermines, the labor-management relationship that is essential to sustained success.”

The workers have gained the support of Emily Cain, a candidate in Maine’s 2nd district election.  In a statement, Cain said:

“The men and women of IBEW and CWA at FairPoint Communications should know that I support them 100 percent. These are qualified, skilled workers who we depend on to maintain  our telecommunications infrastructure for reliable phone, wireless, and internet service. These are essential services so we can call 9-1-1 when a loved one gets hurt, take higher education classes through telecommuting in rural areas of Maine, or quickly share photos of a new baby becoming part of the family.

“More than that, there are more than 1,000 jobs in Maine at stake with these negotiations. These are 1,000 people and families in our state who are at risk of having their jobs and income minimized in favor of outsourcing jobs and hiring less-skilled, lower-paid out of state contractors. This is not acceptable."

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