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FairPoint Strike Becoming Major Election Issue in Northern New England on Campaign’s Final Weekend

Fairness at Fairpoint Vigil

Fairness at Fairpoint Vigil

Fight for good jobs by 2,000 FairPoint workers is impacting races in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont

With FairPoint poised to cut off workers’ health coverage on Halloween, the threat to region’s middle-class is a frightening reality pols can’t ignore

MANCHESTER, N.H.—In the final weekend before Tuesday’s election, the strike at FairPoint Communications has become a major issue in races across northern New England. The two-week-old strike by nearly 2,000 union workers has drawn candidates to the picket lines in all three states and factored in New Hampshire’s final gubernatorial debate.

“We’re not looking to get rich, we’re just looking to sustain our families.  We offered the company a compromise that would save them millions in health care costs, but they refused. We’ve got to stand up for our families and for good jobs.”

The dispute at FairPoint is set to get even more intense on Halloween, as the company has announced it will cut off striking workers’ health care coverage at midnight. With the strike—and the election campaign—heating up, following is an overview of the role the strike has played in the region’s races:

New Hampshire – In the Granite State debate on Wednesday, both gubernatorial candidates were asked about their stance on the FairPoint strike. Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan offered strong support for the strikers, saying “these are workers who for the last three years have been helping FairPoint recover from bankruptcy, working incredibly hard to get the company back on its feet.”

Hassan went on to say, “I’ll continue to urge this North Carolina company to think about New Hampshire-specific solutions and the New Hampshire workers who are really trying to come to the table and work with the company.”

Republican challenger Walt Havenstein initially hedged his response to the FairPoint question, saying “both sides are right.” But Havenstein went on to say of the workers that he “respected their right to negotiate.”

Vermont – On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch issued a letter to FairPoint CEO Paul H. Sunu noting that he’d “visited with those walking the picket line in Burlington” and heard their “passionate commitment to customer service.” Welch said, “I strongly urge you to return to the bargaining table in good faith and find common ground with the working men and women of your company.”

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, though not up for re-election, held a press conference with FairPoint strikers on Wednesday and criticized the telecom firm for “putting the interests of the multi-billion dollar hedge fund companies who own the company ahead of its workers and customers.”

MaineU.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree has made multiple visits to FairPoint picket lines, as have Democratic candidate for governor Mike Michaud, Senate candidate Shenna Bellows, and congressional candidate Emily Cain.

The FairPoint workers—members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council T9 and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1400—have been encouraged by the high profile attention the strike has received.

“It’s great to see that we’ve got so many allies in this fight,” said Todd Bedard, a FairPoint service technician in New Hampshire and a member of IBEW Local 2320. “The company’s move to cut off our health care coverage shows that they’re out to gut good jobs in northern New England. But we’ve been preparing for this fight, so we’ve got our money saved and our friends standing with us, so we’re not going away.”

“The stakes in this strike are becoming very clear,” said Nicole Johnston, a FairPoint customer service representative in Bangor, Maine, and a member of CWA Local 1400. “If a telecom company can cut benefits to the bone, then no middle-class worker is safe. I grew up in a phone company family, so these were the benefits that gave us a good life. But what am I going to do for my daughters if our health care goes away?”

“We’re not looking to get rich, we’re just looking to sustain our families,” said Mike Gauthier, a FairPoint service technician in Brattleboro, Vt., and a member of IBEW Local 2326. “We offered the company a compromise that would save them millions in health care costs, but they refused. We’ve got to stand up for our families and for good jobs.”

Contract talks at FairPoint began on April 25 when the company came to the table with proposals that would cost workers more than $700 million. The company sought to freeze pensions, dramatically raise health care costs, cut retiree health care, and institute a two-tier wage system that would pay new hires as little as minimum wage. In addition, the company sought to outsource union members’ work to out-of-state and foreign contractors.

Though the workers offered compromises worth more than $200 million in savings for the company, the company rejected every significant union proposal. The company declared an impasse on August 27 and imposed the terms and conditions of their proposals on the workers. The unions have charged the company with violating federal labor law and are seeking injunctive relief from the National Labor Relations Board.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council T9 includes local unions in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont and represents nearly 1,700 employees at FairPoint Communications. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1400 represents nearly 300 FairPoint employees in the three states. For more information, visit www.FairnessAtFairpoint.com.

Manchester Newspaper Guild to Hold Informational Picket at Debates

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MANCHESTER TNGMANCHESTER — Unionized workers at the New Hampshire Union Leader are standing up and fighting back Wednesday and Thursday by walking an informational picket line at the Union Leader-sponsored Granite State Debates.

Members of the Manchester Newspaper Guild, which represents about 75 employees in the editorial, advertising, circulation, IT and janitorial departments at the statewide newspaper and website, have been living under what they consider an unlawfully imposed 18% pay cut since March in their ongoing fight to secure a new contract. Bargaining began more than a year ago. The contract between the employees and publisher expired Dec. 31, 2013.

Guild members, their families and supporters will picket and leaflet from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday outside The New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College, prior to debates between the candidates for Governor and Senate.

“The Union Leader wants its union workers to continue to bear the brunt of repeated rollbacks in pay and benefits over the past several years,” the Guild’s bargaining team said. “The workers will not buckle to the company’s unreasonable demands.”

The company initially sought to gut workers’ job security to allow it to lay off workers with impunity and outsource their work. It later sought an 18 percent retroactive wage cut before imposing conditions that include the 18 percent wage cut and a huge hike in health-care deductibles while continuing to attack workers’ job security. Combined, the pay cut and insurance hike amount to an approximate 28 percent cut in pay and benefits for an average union member’s family.

Since 2009, and in addition to the currently imposed cuts, Guild members have agreed to additional pay cuts totaling about 14 percent, as well as higher insurance deductibles and a longer work week. Management and non-union employees have not shared in many of those cutbacks.

The Union has seven Unfair Labor Practice charges against the company pending with the National Labor Relations Board. Since the imposition of the huge cutbacks, approximately 20% of the union’s employees have given their notice and left the company.

While bargaining with the company since September 2013, the Manchester Guild, a local of The Newspaper Guild-Communication Workers of America, has engaged in numerous job actions and community outreach efforts. Guild leaders have vowed that if the Union Leader sponsors, co-sponsors, or is involved in an event, Guild members will be there in force to protest the company’s unfair treatment of its workers.

Local leaders have made clear the Union has no dispute with anyone other than The New Hampshire Union Leader, and is not asking anyone to cease performing work or to refuse to do business.

AFT-NH Hosts “Working Women Speak Out” (Videos)

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and AFT President Randi Weingarten

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This election is extremely important to working women and their families.  Ensuring that we elect representatives who support women in the workplace was what the Working Women Speak Out event was focused on.

Issues facing working women are the same issues effected every Granite Stater this election.  AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler said, “Women’s issues are shaping up to be the second biggest issue of this election.” Working women are facing enormous challenges in our struggling economy. “Women still only make $.77 cents on the dollar compared to man, and that is a shame,” said Shuler.  In her speech, Shuler focused on reelecting Governor Hassan, Senator Shaheen, and Congresswoman Annie Kuster who all support raising the minimum wage and equal pay for equal work.  Shuler also talked about the need to pass “paid sick leave” for all workers, especially since most low wage jobs, like waiting tables, provide no paid time off when your sick.

View Liz Shuler video on YouTube

AFT-President Randi Weingarten also spoke at the event and focused how poverty and education effect working families. “Nearly half of all public school students are living below the poverty line, and one-in-four (25%) of all children nationally are living in poverty,” said Weingarten.  She also talked about how we need to ensure that we are properly funding our public school system. “The only reason we passed a nation budget was because the Republicans were embarrassed after they shut down the government,” said Weingarten. “How dare they say they support children when they cut public school budgets to give tax breaks to the 1%.”

(Randi also spoke in detail about the effects of spending caps like the one in Nashua in separate post here.)

View Randi’s speech on YouTube

Kelly Torosian, an IBEW 2320 member and an Executive Council member of the NH AFL-CIO, took a few minutes to update the crowd on the ongoing FairPoint strike. Torosian asked for people to show their support for workers standing on the picket line by donating gas cards and grocery store gift cards.  After hearing about the current struggle of striking workers, Weingarten stated, “AFT will donate $5,000 dollars to the FairPoint workers strike fund.”

The crowd of 70 people gave a standing ovation to Governor Hassan as she entered the room, showing their support for her strong leadership in the corner office.  “Building a strong innovative economy starts with a strong public schools system,” said Hassan.  Governor Hassan also spoke about the need to “restore and improve the state minimum wage.”

Hassan also brought attention to the importance of keeping Democrats in control of the NH House and not letting Bill O’Brien regain control.  As Speaker, O’Brien cut funding to public schools, the University of New Hampshire system, and repealed the New Hampshire Minimum Wage law.

Governor Hassan also talked about the importance of having access to quality healthcare and provide low income workers with healthcare through the Medicaid Expansion. “As of this week 20,000 Granite Staters now have healthcare thanks to the Medicaid Expansion,” said Hassan.

View Governor Hassan’s speech on YouTube.

Congresswoman Annie Kuster also talked about the Bill O’Brien House and her opponent Marilinda Garcia, who was one of the select few to be a part of  O’Brien’s leadership team.  Kuster talked about her work in Congress to help working families by pushing for expanded access to healthcare, raising the minimum wage and passing a national Paycheck Fairness law.  Kuster noted that while she supports legislation that would help working women, her opponent, wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, opposes raising the minimum wage, and paycheck fairness is unneeded legislation.

Garcia also wants to abolish the Department of Education that would virtually eliminate the federal student loan program, even though Garcia currently owes tens of thousands of dollars in Sallie Mae student loans.

View Rep. Annie Kuster’s speech on YouTube.

Laura Hainey, President of AFT-NH organized the event and spent a couple of minutes talking about working to ensure that Speaker Bill O’Brien does not regain power in Concord.  As President of AFT-NH, Hainey knows first hand the devastation that another O’Brien legislature would do to the public schools system in New Hampshire.

View Laura Hainey’s speech on YouTube.

Senator Shaheen was unable to attend the event due to a scheduling conflict — she was in Northern New Hampshire campaigning with Sen. Elizabeth Warren — her daughter Stacy gave a short speech on her behalf.  Stacy Shaheen talked about how hard her mother is working for the people of New Hampshire. “My mom is a workhorse,” said Shaheen.  “She has been working for the people of New Hampshire for a long time.”

Working families in New Hampshire need more representatives like this strong, women leaders.

Talk to your friends, neighbors and family members about how important this election is and then encourage them to vote on Nov. 4th.

AFT President Randi Weingarten Speaks At AFT-NH’s Working Women Speak Out Event

Randi Weingarten
Randi Weingarten

AFT President Randi Weingarten (center) with members of the Nashua Teacher Union (AFT-NH)

Yesterday the American Federation of Teachers (NH) organized an event focusing on the importance of this election on the lives of working women.  The event entitled Working Women Speak Out featured propionate labor leaders and Congresswoman Annie Kuster talking about the issues effecting women this election.

Below are two videos from the event featuring American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

View video 1 on YouTube

After her rousing speech about the importance of getting out and voting this election, Gary Hoffman, a teacher in the Nashua School District asked Pres. Weingarten about local spending caps and their effects on public schools.  Nashua is currently considering changing the way that the city calculates their spending cap and the city will vote on this Charter Amendment on Nov. 4th.  Below is President Weingarten’s response.

View video 2 on YouTube.

 

The Professional Fire Fighters of NH Explain Why Scott Brown Is Not Right For NH

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Firefighters put their lives on the line for you and me every single day.  They are the first people there when something bad happens.  They do everything they can to make the bad stuff go away.

What about the Firefighters, who is watching out for them?  The International Association of Fire Fighers (IAFF) and their New Hampshire chapter the Professional Fire Fighters of NH (PFF-NH).  Both of these organizations are putting firefighters and their families first, so when they say that Sen Scott Brown is not right for firefighters, I am listening.

Senator Shaheen has always been there for the firefighters and our public safety professionals from the time she was a State Senator to this day in the US Senate.  This is why the PFF-NH has endorsed Sen. Shaheen in her campaign for reelection.

Below is a short video from the Professional Fire Fighters of NH talking directly to members about the major differences between Sen. Shaheen and Sen Scott Brown.  This video is intended to reach out to firefighters, but I am sharing it because it shows us exactly how Scott Brown is not out for us.  Scott Brown voted to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires over protecting our nation’s bravest.

Scott Brown is not right for me, and not right for New Hampshire.

Watch the video on YouTube.

 

FairPoint Workers Respond to Company Accusations of Sabotage Company Attempts to Distract Public From Service Quality Issues

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On Day 8 of the strike against FairPoint Communications, workers on picket lines across northern New England expressed their disgust and disappointment at the company’s accusations of sabotage. They suggested FairPoint is trying to distract the media and the public from its inability to respond to service troubles in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

“It’s outrageous that management is lobbing these accusations at the very workers who’ve poured our blood, sweat, and tears into making this a viable company in our region,” said Chris Whidden, a Service Splice Technician and a member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 2327 in Maine. “I’ve worked for the telephone company for 19 years, and I’ve lived around here even longer. I want to get back to work helping my customers. Why would I want to inconvenience my friends and neighbors, or put them in danger as the company suggests?”

Striking workers have spent hours each day picketing worksites all over northern New England, and they say only a skeleton workforce is going in and out of those worksites. “The company is accusing our unions of jamming their phone lines, but not providing any evidence. It’s not as if they don’t have the technology to trace something like that,” said Todd Bedard, a Central Office Equipment Installer and member of IBEW Local 2320 in New Hampshire. “Is it that someone is jamming those lines, or is it that the company just simply cannot answer all the customer calls coming in? The parking lots at call centers are nearly empty, so unless they’re outsourcing the calls to other states or the Philippines, then there’s no way they can answer all the calls. That’s not jamming. That’s math.”

Representatives of the IBEW and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) warn that in the coming days FairPoint, a North Carolina-based company largely owned by Wall Street hedge funds, will try to smear the reputations of hard-working New Englanders who simply want to work. “This company has turned its back on our communities,” said Lisa Heisler, a member of CWA Local 1400 and a Customer Service Representative who has worked for the telephone company for 17 years in Vermont. “We are out here every day fighting to preserve good jobs and quality service while the company is accusing us of attacking our own communities. It’s disgusting.”

The IBEW System Council T9 includes local unions in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont and represents nearly 1,700 employees at FairPoint Communications. The CWA Local 1400 represents nearly 300 FairPoint employees in the three states. For more information, visit www.fairnessatfairpoint.com.

Oct. 23 2014 Weekly Summary Of Communication Positions Posted At UnionJobs

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For more information go to UnionJobs.com

AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations)
Development Manager, Digital Strategies Department  District of Columbia
Strategic Campaigns Coordinator, Organizing Department  District of Columbia
Safety and Health Fellow, AFL-CIO Safety and Health Department  District of Columbia
Corporate Research Analyst, Office of Investment  District of Columbia

AFSCME (Council 3)
Database Analyst and IT Coordinator, Baltimore  Maryland

AFT (American Federation of Teachers)
Communications Director, Local 400, PFT (Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers)  Pennsylvania
Human/Civil Rights Advocacy Director, Human Rights and Community Relations Department District of Columbia
Senior Associate/Writer, Communications Department District of Columbia

California Labor Federation
Communications Specialist  California

CNA/NNU (California Nurses Association (CNA) / National Nurses United (NNU) AFL-CIO)
Web Editor, Oakland  California

CPD (Center for Popular Democracy)
Fair Workweek Campaign Coordinator, New York City,  New York

FEA (Florida Education Association)
Director of Information Technology, Tallahassee, Florida  (National Posting)

IFPTE (International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, Local 21)
Communications And Research Specialist, San Francisco Bay Area California

LIUNA (Laborers International Union of North America)
Media Outreach Manager, Washington D.C.  District of Columbia

NNU (National Nurses United)
Video Specialist, Oakland  California
Educator – Immediate Opening, San Francisco Bay area  California
Communications Specialist, Oakland California

NTEU (National Treasury Employees Union)
Media Specialist (Posted: 9/24/2014) District of Columbia

NYHTC (New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council)
Video Communications SupervisorNew York

Public Citizen – Global Trade Watch
Communications Officer  District of Columbia
National Field Director  District of Columbia

SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists)
Video Specialist – Communications & Marketing Department, Los Angeles  California

SEIU (1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East)
Communications Specialist, Boston  Massachusetts
Web-Graphic Designer, Baltimore  Maryland

SEIU (Local 32BJ)
Communications Specialist: Mid-Atlantic Region, Philadelphia based Pennsylvania
Regional Communications Manager: New York  New York 

SEIU (Local 721)
Communications Specialist  California

SEIU (SEIU Healthcare 775NW)
Communications Specialist, Seattle  Washington

UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers International Union)
Senior Strategic Targeting Coordinator, Washington D.C.  District of Columbia

UFT (United Federation of Teachers)
Digital Content Specialist, New York  New York

United NY
New Media Associate, Manhattan New York

Wisconsin Jobs Now
 Online Campaigner  National

Working America (a community affiliate of the AFL-CIO)
Communications Director  District of Columbia
Health Care Outreach Associates, Albuquerque, NM; Atlanta, GA; Chicago, IL; Columbus, OH; Dallas, TX; Greensboro, NC; Houston, TX; Miami, FL; New York, NY; Orange County, CA; Orlando, FL; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Pittsburgh, PA; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Washington, DC  (National Posting)
Writer  District of Columbia

Labor Movement Mobilizes Latino Working Families Ahead of Midterm Elections

(Photo by Bill Burke, Page One Photography)

Latinos in key battleground states rally around worker-friendly candidates

(Washington, DC) – With the 2014 midterm elections around the corner, the AFL-CIO is increasing its mobilization efforts to reach out to Latinos voters in key states across the country. The AFL-CIO is urging voters to support candidates who stand up for the issues that matter the most to working families, not just wealthy CEOs.

Through phone banks, canvassing and community organizations, volunteers are reaching out to Latino voters in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Last week the AFL-CIO circulated fact sheets detailing the significance of the Latino vote in deciding important races in each of these states.

“Latino voters are vital to ensuring that worker-friendly candidates are elected to represent their communities,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “So much is at stake this year – from keeping higher education affordable to implementing a roadmap to citizenship. It is clear that Latinos cannot afford to sit on the sidelines. The labor movement is committed to making sure that the voice of this important community is heard loud and clear on November 4th.”

America’s Latinos are an ever-increasing voting population. According to the Pew Research Center, a record 25.2 million Latinos are eligible to vote in the 2014 midterm elections, making up 11% of eligible voters nationwide. However, the turnout rate of eligible Latino voters has historically lagged that of whites and blacks by substantial margins. The efforts of the AFL-CIO seek to close this turnout gap and support the election of politicians that stand up for middle class families.

State Employees and State Enter Contract Negotiations Tomorrow

SEIU 1984 Logo

SEIU 1984 LogoConcord, NH, October 22, 2014 – The State Employees’ Association/SEIU Local 1984, which represents 11 thousand state employees, announced that negotiations for the 2015-2017 employment contract between the employees and the state will officially begin tomorrow.

Tomorrow morning, the employees’ bargaining team will meet with the State’s team for the first time to begin the process of negotiating an employment contract that both sides find reasonable and fair.  Typically, the first meeting is focused on establishing “ground rules,” such as dates, times, frequency, location of meetings; the structure of sessions; the bargaining environment; among other things.

“We are pleased to begin negotiations in October, which is really when we are supposed to begin by statute,” said the workers’ Bargaining Chairman, James Nall.  “It is encouraging that Governor Hassan has agreed to engage in the process before the remainder of the budget process.  We are appreciative of her willingness to begin earlier this time.”

Over the last few cycles, contract negotiations were not complete until late in the budget process; leaving both the workers and the state vulnerable to the ramifications of the legislature trying to fit funding into a nearly completed budget.  “It is great to feel that we are not an afterthought, this time,” said Nall.

The price tag of the current contract accounts for just 18% of the state’s annual expenditures.  “People are quick to assume that this is the line item to slash when balancing the state’s budget,” said Rich Gulla, SEA/SEIU 1984 president.  “In reality, far more is paid to private contractors, who carry out functions that may have previously been performed by state workers.  Interestingly, many of those contractors are from out of state, so when they receive payment from our tax dollars, that money is not spent here; it isn’t placed back into New Hampshire’s economy.  This ultimately hurts our state.”

“Before we begin the bargaining process each time, we send out a survey to all the employees in the unit,” said Nall. “It was not surprising that when responding to what one thing they would change about their job it was not their wages or benefits.  It was to provide high quality service to our citizens.  They want to have the resources to do their job. Our employees strive to provide the services to those in need – whether that’s someone who’s driving on state roads or someone needing assistance with child support.  That’s commitment and dedication.”

“Many state employees are now doing the jobs of two to three employees,” said Gulla.  “This is the result of repeated budget cuts and the elimination of over 1200 positions over the last decade.  Agencies are underfunded year after year.  Management is avoiding more layoffs by not filling vacant positions.  The amount of work to be done doesn’t decrease, though, it increases.  So services for the citizens of this great state are being negatively impacted.  That’s a problem.”

Changes related to workplace safety and wages will likely be included in this round of negotiations.

AFL-CIO Worker’s Voice PAC To Air Ads In Seven Key States

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With high stakes elections coming down to the wire across the country, the labor movement is going up on radio and TV in support of working family candidates.  The ads will build on the effective grassroots campaign that labor has been running for several months including door knocking, worksite leaflets and phone banking.

Workers’ Voice has just launched full 60 second radio ads designed to educate working families about the stakes on November 4th and promote the candidates who will work for their economic interests:

  • Senator Mark Begich (Alaska)
  • Senator Mark Udall (Colorado)
  • Congressman Bruce Braley (running for Senate in Iowa)
  • Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (running for Senate in Kentucky)
  • Congressman Mike Michaud (running for Governor in Maine)
  • Mary Burke (running for Governor in Wisconsin)

Each ad will run through Election Day in multiple markets across each state.

In addition, a 30 second television ad in Michigan launches today and will air through Election Day.

Each of these ads focus on economic issues and aim to clarify for voters which candidate will fight for a secure and growing middle class.

The Iowa radio ad is an example: By including Senate candidate Jodi Ernst’s own words in support of Social Security privatization, the ad steps above the din on an issue (retirement security) of deep-seated concern to working people in Iowa.

To listen to any of the radio ads, click below:

Alaska US Senate, Radio

Colorado US Senate, Radio

Iowa, US Senate Radio

Kentucky US Senate, Radio

Maine Governor Radio

Wisconsin Governor, Radio

And the Michigan Governor TV ad can be found here

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