Unions Say Company Refuses to Compromise
to Preserve Reliable Service and Good Jobs
Augusta, ME—At 12:01 a.m. on Friday, October 17th, nearly 2,000 employees of FairPoint Communications (FRP) in northern New England will go on strike. Early Friday morning they will establish picket lines at hundreds of work sites across Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
“The company’s actions have brought us to this place,” said Peter McLaughlin, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2327 in Maine. “We did not want to take this step. Our members want to work; they want to take care of their customers. However, our bargaining team worked as hard as we could to reach a fair agreement that would preserve good jobs and help the company prosper. We’ve offered significant concessions to this company that would save them hundreds of millions of dollars. But they absolutely refuse to compromise on any significant issue.”
Negotiations began on April 25th, when the company came to the table with proposals that would cost workers more than $700 million. The company sought to freeze pensions, 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 end job security and outsource union members’ work to out-of-state and foreign contractors.
After dozens of bargaining sessions during which the company rejected every significant union proposal, the company declared an impasse on August 27th 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.
Employees say the North Carolina-based company, which emerged from bankruptcy in 2010, wants to slash labor costs in order to either sell the business or satisfy shareholders with dividends. “This company is largely owned by a small number of Wall Street hedge funds like Angelo, Gordon & Co.,” said Don Trementozzi, President of CWA Local 1400. “Their priority is to squeeze as much money as possible out of the workers who’ve kept this company going, not to provide the 21st-century telecommunications system that northern New Englanders need and deserve.”
Union leaders say the company hired a notorious “union avoidance” law firm, Seyfarth Shaw, to lead the negotiations with the goal of forcing draconian terms on the workers. “It is clear that this company never intended to reach a negotiated agreement with our members,” said Glenn Brackett, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2320 in New Hampshire. “They put their outrageous proposals on the table on April 25th and never budged. That is not good faith. That is not compromise and cooperation. It is disrespect, pure and simple. Our members refuse to work under these conditions any longer.”
Members of IBEW and CWA as well as supporters from other unions and community organizations will picket at work sites in order to bring public awareness to their situation and to deter replacement workers from crossing their picket lines. They will ask customers and service providers not to cross the lines to do business or make deliveries to FairPoint locations.
“This fight is about keeping good middle-class jobs in our region and making sure that customers get the service they deserve from well-trained, experienced workers, not low-wage temps from out-of-state or overseas,” said Mike Spillane, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2326 in Vermont. “Our members have been organizing and educating the public for well over a year. While they would much rather continue to work and take care of our customers, they are absolutely united and ready to strike for as long as it takes to win a fair agreement.”
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.