FairPoint Communications workers in Vermont will vote Friday evening whether to authorize a strike in protest of stalled contract negotiations. Parallel votes are scheduled in Maine and New Hampshire over the weekend.
The vote would allow union leaders to call a strike at a later date.
At issue is a long roster of labor concessions FairPoint is seeking, from frozen pensions and other benefits to use of contract and temporary workers.
FairPoint says it’s seeking the cost savings in an effort to keep pace with a competitive telecommunications industry.
Mike Spillane, business manager of IBEW Local 2326 in Vermont, said Tuesday the strike authorization would last until the end of the current contract on Aug. 2. He said the decision to strike would be a last resort driven by “hopelessness” about the bargaining process.
“They’re not giving us counterproposals,” Spillane said. “They gave us proposals to destroy us on the first day of bargaining, and they haven’t budged from them.”
FairPoint disputes Spillane’s characterization and IBEW’s joint news release with Communications Workers of America. The two groups represent about 2,000 FairPoint workers in northern New England.
“Much of the unions’ press release is shocking and simply not true,” FairPoint spokeswoman Angelynne Amores Beaudry said by email.
She said the unions’ counterproposals would not save FairPoint any money, and a few of them would have actually increased costs.
“If the unions are not prepared to tackle the critical issues at stake in these negotiations, and simply seek to maintain the unacceptable status quo, it is time for them to at least be honest about it,” Amores said.
In the event of a potential strike, Amores said FairPoint would maintain service for subscribers.
Spillane said most systems would continue to function, but repairs and maintenance would suffer, especially in the event of weather that brought down poles or wires.
He and other employees say labor concessions would not be reinvested in the company, but would go to investor dividends.
“We fought for many years to get the standard of living we have,” Spillane said.
He said he has no doubt the union membership will vote overwhelmingly to authorize a strike — and that he hopes he won’t feel compelled to pull the trigger.