FairPoint, unions dig in as strike vote looms Friday

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.

Hilary Niles

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  • Dave Bellinio

    “If the Unions are not prepared to tackle the critical issues….”
    Gimmie a break !!
    The unions said repeatedly that Fairpoint couldn’t make a go of it. They said that Fairpoint couldn’t afford to buy that portion of Verizon. They were right. The shady deal that allowed the sale was a disservice to Vermonters. The unions told the truth.

  • Seth Callander

    …and the third rate service they give is evidence of this. I could not have posted this comment yesterday, as my internet connection kept cutting out all day and evening long– a regular problem with them.

    • Janice Prindle

      So did mine. For two and three hours at a stretch, the worst it has ever been — cutting out for a few minutes at a time, at all hours and in all weather, is sadly routine. When I think of the federal money that could have gone to the community fiber optics but went instead to the big guys like Fairpoint…Can we claim paying our taxes to be spent on these lousy services is against our religion? (Thou shall not steal…)

  • victor ialeggio

    agreed. and it looks more than ever like fairpoint’s doing some housecleaning before or as it shops itself around “for sale.” sales/revenue continuing a steady 5-year decline, little cash-on-hand, negative shareholder equity of over $300 million, yet stock price hovering stable around $14 for a number of months now as management takes steps to freeze employee benefits in next contract. a union softened up by pension concessions will make a more attractive package for a prospective buyer.

    I believe current contractual unpleasantness goes back to 2009 when management tried a little union busting, almost immediately following the verizon purchase, by hiring a non-union Canadian firm and then transferring that contract to a non-union New York firm the following year.

    looks like a sale, smells like a sale.

  • Jamie Carter

    Fairpoint can’t afford to new contract negotiations, they are the bottom of the barrel and only serve customers that have no other choice. Terrible service, terrible support, and high prices. Unfortunately some of us are stuck, it’s the only option… looks like prices will be going up, service and support will go down, especially if they strike.

  • Paul Richards

    In the end the union will probably get what they want and then get a pink slip after the company goes out of business.

  • Stephanie Kaplan

    As I recall, the Vermont Public Service Board approved the Fairpoint purchase of Verizon, ignoring the warnings raised by the unions.

    • Kathy Leonard

      That’s correct. Verizon got a real sweetheart deal and the union members predicted it would be paid for by staff reductions.

      BTW, our phone/Internet service became much more reliable after Fairpoint took over, as Verizon had deferred maintenance as they anticipated dumping our landlines.

    • Timothy D. MacLam

      Another “service” to the public from our Public Service Board. If we were in Chicago or Louisiana, I would suspect bribes and payoffs were motivating the PSB’s rulings.

  • walter moses

    What a crappy telecom company. Doesn’t belong in business anyway. Just awful service. I’ll bet the public service board loves them.

  • Hod Palmer

    Ever heard of a “cell phone.” Don’t think Fairpoint is in that market.

    • Jamie Carter

      If only cell phone service were available all over the state that would be an option… and you could get internet access via a cell phone.

  • George Cross

    There are enough issues in this situation for people to complain about. However, the real problem is that more and more families are dropping their land lines and going total cellular for phone service. To some degree this was predictable when the PSB approve the sale of the land lines to Fairpoint. Yet it did not seem to be a major consideration. Verizon drained most of the profits out of the land lines and then abandoned us. Now the problem is simple, Fairpoint is the telephone service of last resort for those without another land line or cellular option. As such, it will either need higher rates or taxpayer subsidies in order to stay in business for the long run. Whatever ends this crisis, is simply a bandaid.

    BTW, my Fairpopint service has been fine and I have options. My DSL connection is also fine.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Fairpoint has problems – but Comcast is worse.

    • Jamie Carter

      I thought the same thing when I had Comcast, now that I am forced to have Fairpoint, I’d kill to go back to Comcast.

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