Business & Economy

FairPoint, unions not talking

Unionized FairPoint workers have not yet called a strike and no new negotiation sessions have been publicized, officials on both sides of the contract dispute said Tuesday.

After more than three months of negotiations, FairPoint Communications and two unions representing its workers were unable to reach an agreement before the contract expired at midnight Saturday. Workers are still on the job without a contract.

The unions, with 1,800 workers across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, are hoping to come back to the bargaining table this week. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America have already authorized a strike and FairPoint could lock out the workers at any time. FairPoint purchased Verizon’s northern New England landline operations in 2008.

“Right now we’re just regrouping, working behind the scenes, preparing for our next sessions,” said Mike Spillane, business manager of IBEW Local 2326 in Colchester. “I hope we get back there (to the table) soon and can break this gridlock and go on with our lives.”

The main points of contention remain FairPoint’s decision to freeze pensions for current employees, terminate health care benefits of retirees and hire outside contractors to replace unionized workers. FairPoint, which pays sick leave and covers 100 percent of health care costs for unionized employees, says the decisions are cost-saving measures for the company. Since bargaining began in late April, the unions say they have put 65 proposals on the bargaining table.

In July, workers in each state overwhelmingly voted to authorize the strike.
But hours before the deadline Saturday, as workers held a candlelight vigil in each state, the union announced that it would hold off on calling a strike.

“We’re far apart. We’re still considering options. Nothing has changed so far,” FairPoint spokesperson Angelynne Beaudry said. She would not comment on FairPoint’s outlook or whether negotiations would continue this week.

“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,” the unions wrote in a news release.

Both sides acknowledge that they’re not nearing a compromise.

In the last few days before the contract expiration, “we made significant proposals that the company just out and out rejected,” Spillane said. “The company continued to sit there like a two-year-old would, just saying ‘no, no, no.’”

Spillane said he expects FairPoint to offer a proposal later this week.

“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.”

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Katie Jickling

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  • Mike Kerin

    The biggest reason for lower wages is Union Busting!
    The corporations and ultra rich do not want Unions. Unions work to bring fair wages and benefits for the people and that cuts into the profits of the wealthy and corporations.

    • Paul Richards

      “The biggest reason for lower wages is Union Busting!”
      Wow, that is quite a stretch Mike. In fact, this is from an earlier article on this subject; “Unionized workers make an average of $115,000 a year with benefits. FairPoint also covers health care and paid sick leave.”
      It’s never enough. We are all hostage to these unwarranted union pay scales in these private sector monopolies and in public sector union jobs. I would be getting a raise if I made half that but I still have to pay my phone bill if I want service.
      Does $115,000 constitute “lower wages” these days? The money we all have to pay for these exorbitant wages and benefits cuts into our ability to support our families and plan for our own futures. Enough is enough. It’s time to reign in these out of control unions who force us to isolate them from the realities that the rest of us face every day. If social security is good enough for us it’s good enough for them. Why should we be forced to pay for their elite plans and early retirement while we slave away to fund it? Who is bargaining for us, the ones footing the bill?

      • David Dempsey

        If I worked for a company that has lost $55 million in the first two quarters of 2014, I think I would be worried about the company going bankrupt and losing my job. If the union calls for a strike and Fairpoint goes bankrupt, the employees will be collecting unemployment. To insure continued phone service to current customers, the states will end up paying for those services with our tax dollars, even if we don’t use the services. No company would be stupid enough to invest in a dying business. Then the union employees could probably go to work for the state for smaller wages and they won’t get their insurance for free.

  • Gerald Sullivan

    First, if a union member is out of work due to a strike, they are not eligible for unemployment benefits. As for the benefits, most company paid pensions and health care plans arose out of wage freezes during WWII. These benefits are part of the total compensation received by employees, and to eliminate them would equate to a massive pay cut. Many people who retired from the company predicated their decision on the fact that their health insurance was covered. To eliminate their health benefits would be catastrophic to them, and morally wrong. These benefits were part of the deal, and should remain. If the company wants out of this situation, they should negotiate that for future employees and not go back on a deal made in good faith by both parties. Fairpoint is owned by the hedge fund types on wall street, and we all know how they operate. Let them have their way, and in a very short time there will be no good paying jobs left in this country. How anybody can advocate for this is beyond my understanding.

    • Paul Richards

      This is not 1940 and these wages and benefits are not your grandfathers wages and benefits. The wage freezes were done in the best interest of helping the country overall. These current wages and benefits are quite the opposite. They benefit only those elite members of unions who stand head and shoulders above what the rest of us are able to earn in terms of wages and benefits. We are typically shut out of the process of these “negotiations” and are left holding the bill for promises someone else made. A promise is a promise however, and no matter what coercion took place, they should honor their commitments. The problem is that “they” are usually “us” and we are left holding the bag for deals that someone else made for us without our input. That is morally wrong and goes against the founding principles of this country. What happens when they over promise and the well runs dry? That is a deal they made between the 2 parties and they should suffer whatever consequences there are, not us. Why did we bail out the auto unions with our tax dollars?
      You can’t us WWII methodology for justification of the current out of control union gouging going on today. What is a “good paying job” these days? Is it only union jobs with wages and benefits that were arrived at by coercion and force? Is that the standard bearer? What ever happened to good old merit? Most companies are small businesses and there is no way they will survive by treating their employees like dirt and most know it. They always get thrown under the bus with big corporations who behave badly though. Bernie and others are always quick to lump them all together.
      Not all “good paying jobs” are union jobs.

  • walter moses

    I don’t know about “union busting” or other labor troubles but I do know my service is terrible with buzzing and static and it affects other houses in my neighborhood. This is one lousy company, bankrupt once, with terrible service and high cost. The operator says,” you do know you will have to pay if it is an inside problem?” That is the best these yokels have to offer. Guess I’ll have to contact the PSB (pipeline service board).

  • Keith Roberts

    Giant corporations continually decreasing the wages of all American workers is no reason to support Fairpoint’s attempt at Union busting. These workers go out in all kinds of bad weather, do dangerous work and if your service is poor it’s because the company refuses to spend money on decent facilities, not because the workers are “elitists”. The fact that all kinds of American workers have had their payscales downgraded is no reason for Fairpoint workers to accept a crap deal from Fairpoint. They bought that company knowing what they were getting into and they should continue to pay those vital workers what they’ve earned.