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

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.

[cryout-pullquote align=”right” textalign=”right” width=”30%”]“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.”[/cryout-pullquote]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.

Governor Hassan on Medicaid Expansion: “I look forward to signing this bill into law as quickly as possible”

Summer interns Aislinn (NHCA) and Chris (NARAL) stood up for Medicaid expansion at the State House on June 6th.CONCORD – Following House passage today of SB 413, a bipartisan agreement to accept federal funds in order to expand access to health coverage, Governor Maggie Hassan released the following statement:

“Today’s House vote in favor of our bipartisan health care expansion plan will improve the health and financial well-being of more than 50,000 hard-working people who deserve the security of health insurance.

“By expanding access to health insurance, we will help reduce uncompensated care and cost-shifting on New Hampshire businesses, encourage cost-saving primary and preventive care, and provide substance abuse and mental health treatment to thousands while injecting $2.5 billion in federal funds into our state’s economy.

“This bipartisan plan is a uniquely New Hampshire solution and it exemplifies New Hampshire’s tradition of collective problem-solving, demonstrating what is possible when we remain focused on solutions and reach across the aisle to achieve progress for our people. I thank Speaker Norelli, Representatives Rosenwald and Sherman, and the House of Representatives for passing this important piece of legislation, as well as Senate President Morse and Senator Larsen for their leadership in the Senate to reach this compromise.

“I look forward to signing this bill into law as quickly as possible and to working with members of both parties throughout the implementation process in order to maximize the benefits of health care expansion for our people and economy.”

NH House Approves Bill to Extend Health Insurance to More than 50,000 Granite Staters

NH Senate Medicaid Vote 6-6-13 Inzane TimesCONCORD, NH – In a show of bipartisan support, the House of Representatives today approved SB 413 by a vote of 202 to 132, enabling New Hampshire to accept federal funds to provide affordable health insurance to more than 50,000 low-income Granite Staters.

“Today is a great day for thousands of New Hampshire residents who will now, for the very first time, have access to affordable health care,” said Deb Fournier, policy analyst for the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute.

“Members of the House and Senate should be commended for their steadfast dedication and commitment to reaching a solution that works for everyone,” said Fournier. “By enabling the state to accept these federal funds, Legislators have made a fiscally responsible decision that will save millions in state budget costs and pave the way for millions of federal dollars to enter the state economy and benefit communities across the state.”

SB 413 is a bipartisan compromise which utilizes federal Medicaid funds to support a program of privately-delivered health insurance for low-income individuals. The compromise is the result of months of discussion and debate regarding how best to design a program that solves a critical health policy issue for New Hampshire.

SB 413 creates a three-stage Health Protection Program to extend affordable health insurance to low-income Granite Staters: the Health Insurance Premium Program, the Bridge to Marketplace Premium Assistance Program, and the Marketplace Premium Assistance Program. Federal funding will cover 100 percent of the costs associated with the Health Protection Program, which will be repealed at the end of 2016 unless future legislatures vote to extend it.

For more information, see the NHFPI Health Protection Program fact sheet.

 

The Amherst School Board Takes To Media Instead Of Negotiating With Amherst Education Association

The Amherst Education Association is troubled that the Amherst School Board has chosen to conduct negotiations through the media and press releases rather than face-to-face — something the AEA believes to be counterproductive and not in the best interests of teachers, the school district, or the community.

School Board Press Release

Reluctantly, the AEA feels compelled to respond to the three specific points addressed in the Board’s press release: JY Insurance, Reduction In Force, and the 175-Day School Calendar.

JY Insurance:

The AEA believes the most effective way to address health care cost increases would have been to shop for alternative insurance carriers. Eliminating the JY insurance plan was projected to save approximately one-tenth of one percent (.001) on the proposed 2014 budget. Although the AEA suggested on several occasions that the Board seek bids from other health insurance carriers, the Board would not entertain this option, which the AEA believes could produce significant savings for teachers and taxpayers alike.

Reduction In Force:

The AEA is not opposed to teacher performance being included as a factor in layoffs (reduction in force), but asked that performance be determined using criteria that could be objectively measured and assessed. The Board did not provide one single objectively measurable teacher performance criterion.

175-Day School Calendar:

A 175-day calendar was considered by the AEA. Despite teacher concerns over the lack of any specific schedule detailing how the additional time in the school day would be utilized and concerns over the educational impact, teachers were willing to implement the untested idea of the 175-day calendar on a trial basis at no cost to the district. It should be noted that the SAU’s projections show implementation of the 175 day calendar to be more costly than remaining with the traditional 180-day calendar used by almost all NH school districts.

Amherst’s teachers recognize that increases in costs to health insurance, pension costs downshifted to cities and towns by the NH Legislature, and a significant reduction in state education aid are a part of the economic landscape that influence these negotiations. In recognition of these external financial pressures, the AEA proposed a contract settlement that would have led to a reduction in take-home pay for many educators without impacting the quality of education provided to our students. The AEA remains deeply committed to the success of every child and to settling a fair contract.

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The Amherst Education Association represents Amherst School District Teachers at Clark, Wilkins, and Amherst Middle School, covering grades PreK through 8.

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