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Union Leaders Respond To NLRB Dismissing Unfair Labor Practice Against FairPoint

FAIRPoint Strike Rally 12-19-14 Arnie Alpert

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Reaffirm commitment to fair treatment for workers, good service for customers 

In response to the Region 1 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision to dismiss unfair labor practice charges the unions filed against FairPoint, union leaders issued the following statements:

“While disappointing, the NLRB’s decision is not surprising,” said Peter McLaughlin, chair of the unions’ bargaining committee and Business Manager of IBEW Local 2327. “Unfortunately, US labor law favors corporations like FairPoint, not working people. The NLRB is one tool in our toolbox—the NLRB does not decide what’s best for our workers and our communities. We remain united and committed in our fight for fairness at FairPoint.”

“Our decision to strike on October 17th was not based on the NLRB and today’s announcement does not change our commitment to our jobs, our communities, and each other,” said Don Trementozzi, President of CWA Local 1400. “The pressure on FairPoint is mounting and their contingency plan is failing. We know it, they know it, their shareholders know it, and our customers know it. We remain committed to our struggle for fair treatment from FairPoint and good service for our communities and our customers in New England.”

Union leaders also announced they will appeal the Regional Director’s decision to the General Counsel of the NLRB in Washington, DC.

Since approximately 1,800 workers in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont went on strike on October 17th, the three states have seen a “dramatic spike” in the number of complaints against FairPoint.

Last week, New Hampshire officials declined to approve a $13 million contract with FairPoint for phone and internet services, citing concerns with the “poor service levels” customers are currently experiencing.

The negotiations for a new contract at FairPoint began in April, and from the outset FairPoint pressed to increase outsourcing, cut pay for new workers, and slash benefits for all employees.

In August, FairPoint abruptly ended negotiations and imposed its package of aggressive cuts. The workers spent nearly two more months trying to find common ground with FairPoint, but the company refused to negotiate and union workers launched their strike on October 17th.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council T-9 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.

FairPoint Is Failing Our Communities

Fire Alarm (Matthew Ragan CC Flikr)

Fire Alarm (Matthew Ragan CC Flikr)

Fire Alarm (Matthew Ragan CC Flikr)

Since October 17 — more than 60 days ago — workers from FairPoint Communications have been out on strike. Nearly 2,000 workers spread across three states have chosen to stand up to a company that is putting profits before the people of New England.

Rather than come to a fair agreement with their employees, FairPoint executives have continued to insist on $700 million in devastating cuts. The workers have made compromises — offering a health care package that would save the company $7 million a year — but the company keeps insisting on a contract that would turn good middle-class jobs into low-wage jobs with meager benefits.

We all want this strike to end. Many of us have friends who work for FairPoint and have not received a paycheck in two months.  FairPoint has also stripped workers of their healthcare coverage, leaving them completely out in the cold.

Is that really how you treat dedicated workers after years and years of service?

There is another reason that FairPoint should end this strike now: the safety of our communities is at risk.

Since the strike began, FairPoint has been hiring replacement workers to help keep services up.  These replacement workers have been a disaster for FairPoint and the communities they serve.

Customers have gone weeks without phone and Internet access, waiting for FairPoint’s replacement workers to fix their service.  A friend told me two weeks after the strike began that she was switching phone companies because she couldn’t wait any longer for FairPoint to come and fix her phone lines.

These outages are not just affecting people’s homes, they are beginning to affect our schools and emergency services. On Dec 10, the principal of the Cape Elizabeth High School in Maine sent an email to parents warning that “for the past couple of weeks…outside callers to the school experience a never-ending, never-answered ringing sound and then are never put into voice mail.”

Imagine if this was your child’s school.  Imagine if there was an emergency and the school administrators could not call out.  Without phone service, building fire alarms would not alert local firefighters of an emergency. This is a serious problem!

It gets much, much worse.  On November 28, a break in a FairPoint line caused a five hour outage in Vermont’s E-911 system. Due to the outage, over 80 emergency calls were missed.

“We saw our state’s 911 system go down two weeks ago, so we know firsthand how serious this crisis has become,” said Mike Spillane, business manager of IBEW Local 2326 in Vermont.

On December 3, the Portsmouth Police Department was forced to have their calls rerouted through the Concord Police Department dispatch, when Portsmouth’s E-911 system failed due to a FairPoint line outage.  On the same day, problems with FairPoint’s network caused issues for the Exeter Police Department and the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Department – for the second time in three months.

We need the skilled, experienced workers from FairPoint back on the job.  We need people with the knowledge and experience to repair these problems before they become worse.

“The executives back in North Carolina don’t have to live with the chaos they’ve caused by attacking their skilled workers here in New England,” said Glenn Brackett, business manager of IBEW Local 2320 in New Hampshire. “Our 911 systems, our phones and our Internet are failing because their out-of-state contractors can’t do the work.”

For the health and safety of our communities, FairPoint executives need to get back to the bargaining table with the IBEW and CWA and settle this contract dispute now.

Shaheen, Kuster Urge Resolution Of FairPoint Labor Dispute — #FairnessAtFairPoint

fairness at Fairpoint strikers

In letter to FairPoint Communications, Shaheen and Kuster call on company to return to negotiating table

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) in a letter today called on FairPoint Communications Chief Executive Officer Paul Sunu and the FairPoint Communications management team to return to the bargaining table and resolve the ongoing labor disagreement that has led to 2000 FairPoint employees striking across New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. The strike that began October 17 has led to disrupted service for customers throughout the region, including for police departments, fire departments, health care providers and schools, jeopardizing emergency communications and critical public safety services.

“With the onset of winter weather increasing the potential for further damage to FairPoint’s network, we strongly urge you to return to the negotiating table and finalize a new contract,” Shaheen and Kuster wrote. “Reaching a new contract agreement with the striking workers will enable experienced, dedicated FairPoint personnel to return to their jobs and begin the critical task of repairing the telecommunications infrastructure that is vital to public safety in New Hampshire.”

Since the strike started more than two months ago, the New Hampshire Public Utility Commission has received nearly 500 complaints from customers in New Hampshire reporting service issues.

The full text of Shaheen and Kuster’s letter is included below:

December 22, 2014

Paul H. Sunu
Chief Executive Officer

FairPoint Communications
521 E Morehead Street, Suite 500
Charlotte, NC 28202

Dear Mr. Sunu:

We write to encourage you and your management team to return to the bargaining table to negotiate a reasonable compromise with FairPoint workers in northern New England that will bring an end to their two-month long strike.

Since FairPoint workers went on strike on October 17, the New Hampshire Public Utility Commission has received nearly 500 complaints from FairPoint customers around the state about service outages, lack of information and unduly long waits for repairs.  Clearly, FairPoint’s impasse with its workers is having a negative impact on both the company and its customers.  In fact, problems with FairPoint’s network since the strike began have not only affected residential customers, but have also caused service outages for police departments, fire departments, health care providers and schools throughout the state, jeopardizing emergency communications and critical public safety services.

With the onset of winter weather increasing the potential for further damage to FairPoint’s network, we strongly urge you to return to the negotiating table and finalize a new contract.  Reaching a new contract agreement with the striking workers will enable experienced, dedicated FairPoint personnel to return to their jobs and begin the critical task of repairing the telecommunications infrastructure that is vital to public safety in New Hampshire.

When FairPoint took over Verizon’s New Hampshire network in 2008, the company made repeated, public commitments to work collaboratively with its unionized workforce and to maintain their benefits and compensation.  We urge you to continue to uphold these commitments, to resume contract negotiations, and to reach a fair agreement that ends this strike and enables FairPoint’s employees to resume earning good wages and providing quality service to customers in New Hampshire.

Sincerely,

Jeanne Shaheen
United States Senator

Ann McLane Kuster
Member of Congress

Christmas Comes Early for Children of FairPoint Strikers

Image from NH1 Facebook http://on.fb.me/1r8CXDZ

Fairness at Fairpoint Banner

 More than 1,000 toys and gift cards donated to children of FairPoint strikers are being distributed in Portsmouth today

 Public support for strikers is surging; in addition to toy drive, strike relief fund has received nearly $200,000 in donations

 With strike entering its tenth week, FairPoint families say they have the support to go One Day Longer, One Day Stronger

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Santa Claus is coming early for the children of striking workers at FairPoint Communications. More than 1,000 toys and gift cards donated to a union toy drive are being distributed today at the CWA union hall in Portsmouth.

The overwhelming response to the online toy drive marks the latest surge in support for the FairPoint strikers. In addition to the toy drive, the relief fund for the workers — who belong to the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) — has received nearly $200,000 in donations since the strike began on October 17.

“This incredible outpouring of support is going to make the holidays a whole lot happier for our families,” said Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400, which sponsored the toy drive. “Two months ago, we took a stand against corporate greed. And now, to see so many people standing up for us — and especially our kids — it gives you the strength to go one day longer and one stronger.”

The toys will be distributed to the children of strikers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, the three states served by the FairPoint workers.

The workers have been on strike since October 17. They began negotiations for a new contract in April, and from the outset FairPoint executives pressed for $700 million in deep and damaging cuts. The workers have offered more than $200 million in cost-saving compromises, but FairPoint has refused to modify its initial demand for cuts.

In August, the company walked away from bargaining and imposed the terms and conditions of its offer. Those terms slash benefits for current workers, impose deep pay cuts on new employees and promote the outsourcing of good jobs to poorly paid and unqualified contractors.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council T-9 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.

Public Officials Call For Compromise From FairPoint As Workers Rally In Concord

Fairpoint Rally In Concord -- Image by @PaulaHodges

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Public officials across New England calling for company to compromise; FairPoint hasn’t moved from initial demand for $700 million in severe cuts

Union workers have offered more than $200 million in cost savings; they seek a fair deal that ensures good jobs and quality service for New England

FairPoint Workers Rally -- Image By SEIU1984

FairPoint Workers Rally — Image By SEIU 1984 on Facebook

CONCORD, N.H. — Striking workers and their allies are beginning the tenth week of the strike at FairPoint Communications with a rally on the State House Lawn in Concord. The rally comes as public pressure is growing on FairPoint to settle a fair deal.

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, and Senator Bernie Sanders recently issued statements calling on FairPoint, which is headquartered in North Carolina, to settle a fair deal with its New England workers.

The workers — members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America — have offered the company more than $200 million in cost savings during negotiations. But the company has never compromised on its initial demand for $700 million in deep and damaging cuts.

FairPoint executives said they had a contingency plan when the strike began October 17, but replacement workers have struggled to maintain the company’s network. On December 3, a failure of the FairPoint network disrupted 911 lines in Portsmouth and several nearby towns. On November 28, a felled FairPoint line crashed Vermont’s entire 911 network. More than 80 calls were missed.

“FairPoint’s executives back in North Carolina don’t have to worry about their 911 calls being dropped, but they’re putting people’s lives here at risk,” said Glenn Brackett, business manager of IBEW Local 2320 in New Hampshire. “Their refusal to compromise is threatening the economy and the safety of our state.”

In addition to the deep cuts FairPoint is trying to force on the workers, the company has also imposed terms making it easier to outsource work to cut-rate contractors.

“For years, FairPoint has pushed to replace skilled and experienced workers with unqualified and poorly paid contractors,” said Don Trementozzi, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1400. “This strike is showing what a disaster that is for our customers, and it’s why we’re fighting to make sure there’s a qualified workforce in the future.”

The negotiations for a new contract at FairPoint began in April, and from the outset company officials pressed to increase outsourcing, cut pay for new workers and slash benefits for all employees.

The company rejected virtually all of the unions’ proposals during five months of bargaining, then imposed its contract terms at the end of August. In October, after two more months of trying to find common ground with the company, the workers went on strike.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued the following statement today after FairPoint Communications CEO Paul Sunu snubbed a request from the Vermont congressional delegation for the North Carolina company to negotiate an end to a two-month strike by about 1,700 New England workers:

“I am deeply disappointed, but not surprised, with the response from Mr. Sunu. His letter confirms what I have long suspected. FairPoint wants to slash wages and benefits for Vermont workers and it refuses to negotiate in good faith. In essence his letter says FairPoint’s bargaining posture is ‘take it or leave it, we want it our way, and we’re not going to make any compromises.’

“Mr. Sunu fails to mention that the unions already have offered more than $200 million in concessions, nor does he describe just how deep FairPoint’s proposed cuts are. I think most Vermonters would be very surprised to know that FairPoint’s opening positon on new employee wages was below Vermont’s minimum wage.

“Mr. Sunu also does not seem aware just how bad FairPoint service has become. Frankly, the people of Vermont are becoming sick and tired of poor customer service that is getting worse by the day.

“It is time for FairPoint to put its customers’ safety and its workers wellbeing ahead of the interests of the multi-billion dollar Wall Street hedge funds that stand to profit from a sale of the company. It is time for FairPoint to negotiate a contract that respects the contributions of its experienced and dedicated workforce.”

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council T-9 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.

As Storm Approaches New England, FairPoint Struggles with Service Issues

Fairness At Fairpoint

Complaints from FairPoint customers have spiked since telecom company provoked 41-day-old strike

Some FairPoint customers in Maine have been without service since Nor’easter of November 2nd

FairPoint strikers say company’s attack on skilled workers is hurting region; workers calling for Fair Deal for New England

The winter storm approaching New England threatens to make existing service problems for FairPoint customers even worse. Forty-one days into the strike at FairPoint, the company’s replacement workers are struggling to maintain the telecom company’s northern New England network.

“FairPoint started this strike saying they had a contingency plan in place, but they’re failing our customers,” said Peter McLaughlin, chair of System Council T-9 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Complaints about FairPoint service have been mounting ever since the strike began on October 17. FairPoint, based in North Carolina, is the largest telecom provider in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

MAINE SERVICE PROBLEMS: In mid-November, Maine Public Advocate Tim Schneider said complaints to his office about FairPoint had spiked since the strike began. Schneider told the Bangor Daily News that his office may have received five calls a month about FairPoint before the strike. He said it was getting three to five calls a day since then.

VERMONT SERVICE PROBLEMS: Early last week, Vermont’s Department of Public Service reported that it had received 271 complaints from FairPoint customers since the strike began. That is a significant increase over the normal number of complaints, an agency official told Vermont Public Radio.

NEW HAMPSHIRE SERVICE PROBLEMS: Granite State media has filed multiple stories about FairPoint’s failing service and even criminal behavior by the company’s replacement workers. Dozens of FairPoint customers in New Hampshire have also reported service problems on a website maintained by the striking workers.

New Hampshire’s Public Utilities Commission has not yet released figures on the number of FairPoint-related complaints it has received in recent months. But IBEW Local 2320 of New Hampshire will file a formal request today asking that those numbers be made public.

“FairPoint hasn’t even recovered from the last major storm,” said Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400. “We’re hearing daily reports of poles and lines still down all over our region. Their unqualified contractors just aren’t up to the job of maintaining our network during a New England winter.”

The FairPoint workers have been in contentious talks with the company for a new contract since April. In August, FairPoint officials abruptly ended negotiations and imposed proposals that slash all workers’ benefits, cut pay for most new employees by more than 20 percent, and make it easier to outsource good jobs to low-wage contractors. Before going on strike in October, the workers spent nearly two months trying to reopen talks with the company.

The workers have offered more than $200 million in cost-saving compromises during the talks. But the company has not altered its initial demand for $700 million in deep and damaging cuts.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council T-9 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.

In Midst of FairPoint Strike, Unnamed Company Luring Telecom Workers to New England with $300,000 Offer

Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 1.35.41 PM

 In “confidential” job posting on Monster.com, unidentified company offering telecom workers $5,000-$6,000 a week to come to New England

Job ad appears more than a month into strike in which FairPoint has struggled to provide service with unqualified contractors

The ad offers a wage that’s more than three times the average salary of striking FairPoint workers

An unidentified company is advertising for telecom workers and offering to pay them more than $300,000 a year to come work in northern New England. Many wonder if the unnamed company is FairPoint, the telecommunications firm that has struggled to maintain service during a strike now in its 39th day.

“FairPoint has been saying we make too much money, but now it looks like they’re offering people more than three times what we make,” said Peter McLaughlin, chair of System Council T-9 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “Instead of settling a fair deal with its skilled workers, FairPoint is squandering tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars on replacement workers who can’t do our jobs.”

Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 1.35.41 PM

Screen shot from MONSTER.COM job listing

In a “confidential” posting on Monster.com, the unidentified company lists the job location as “Merrimack, NH.” The striking workers of FairPoint provide service in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. The full ad can be seen here: http://tinyurl.com/n7v43zg

In statements to the media, FairPoint has complained about the salaries of its skilled union workers. FairPoint claims that those workers make an average salary of $82,000 a year. The $5,000 to 6,000 a week salary being offered in the Monster.com ad would amount to annual pay of up to $312,000 a year.

The ad from the unidentified company calls for workers who “are comfortable working at customer premise locations including large banks, hospitals, cellular towers, etc. ” FairPoint maintains service at all those locations.

“It looks like FairPoint is finally learning the real value of its experienced workforce,” said Don Trementozzi, president of Communication Workers of America Local 1400. “Now that they know what we’re worth, it’s time for them to stop wasting money on unqualified workers from out of state and reach a fair deal for New England.”

IN OTHER FAIRPOINT STRIKE NEWS: FairPoint workers will continue their wave of actions for a fair deal today in Washington, D.C. Dozens of demonstrators will hold another protest against the company’s biggest shareholder, Angelo, Gordon & Co.

An official from the Wall Street hedge fund, which owns more than 20 percent of FairPoint stock, will be making a presentation at the National Multifamily Conference and Expo at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washingon. FairPoint workers and their allies will be on the street outside ensuring that the public is fully aware of Angelo, Gordon’s role in the attack on northern New England workers.

Angelo, Gordon manages billions of dollars in assets for public pension funds, but it has refused to publicly intervene as FairPoint has moved to gut the pensions and benefits of its employees.

WASHINGTON ACTION DETAILS

WHEN: Monday, Nov. 25, 5 p.m. – 6 p.m.

WHERE: JW Marriott Hotel, 1331 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, D.C.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council T-9 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.

Wave of Actions by FairPoint Strikers Continues Friday in Manchester

FairPoint Communications

FairPoint strikers converge on company’s Elm Street offices calling for good jobs, quality service, and a Fair Deal for New England

Workers escalating their campaign after negotiators from North Carolina-based FairPoint made no movement at meeting earlier this week

Manchester protest marks the third major action by FairPoint strikers in two days, following events Thursday in Montpelier and Boston

WHEN: Friday, November 21, Noon – 1:00 p.m.

WHERE: 770 Elm Street, Manchester, N.H.

Fairness at Fairpoint BannerMANCHESTER — A wave of actions by striking FairPoint workers continues Friday in Manchester. Strikers and supporters from across New England are rallying on the picket line outside FairPoint’s Elm Street offices.

The striking workers are calling on the company, which is headquartered in North Carolina, to reach a Fair Deal for New England. They say that deep and damaging cuts the company is seeking in negotiations would make it impossible to deliver quality service to customers.

“The executives back in North Carolina don’t get it, but they’ve created a crisis here in New England,” said Glenn Brackett, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2320, which represents FairPoint workers in New Hampshire. “By attacking their skilled workers, FairPoint has left our customers relying on unqualified contractors who can’t do the work.”

The Manchester protest will mark the strikers’ third major action against FairPoint in two days. On Thursday morning, a delegation of strikers and supporters protested against FairPoint’s biggest shareholder — Wall Street hedge fund Angelo, Gordon & Co. — at an investor conference in Boston. At noon, the strikers held a major rally at the Vermont state capitol in Montpelier.

Earlier this week, union representatives participated in an effort to jump-start the deadlocked talks. They attended a meeting Tuesday with the company arranged by a federal mediator. But the meeting broke up quickly after FairPoint officials refused to modify demands for severe cuts that they’ve been seeking since bargaining began this spring.

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan issued a statement after Tuesday’s meeting, saying, “I know that FairPoint workers, who stood by the company throughout its bankruptcy proceedings, have brought a constructive approach to the table and offered real concessions, and I encourage FairPoint’s leadership in North Carolina to do the same.”

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin spoke at Thursday’s rally in Montpelier, and said he had talked to the CEO of FairPoint two days earlier. Shumlin said he had urged the CEO to return to the table with the FairPoint strikers so they could “get service back to a level that is acceptable.”

Since the strike began on October 17, FairPoint has been struggling to maintain its northern New England systems with replacement workers hired from out of state. On Monday, Vermont’s Department of Public Service reported that it has received 271 complaints from Fairpoint customers during the strike, a significant increase.

The negotiations for a new contract at FairPoint began in April, and from the outset company officials pressed to increase outsourcing, cut pay for new workers and slash benefits for all employees. The workers have offered more than $200 million in cost-saving compromises during the talks. But the company has not altered its initial demand for $700 million in deep and damaging cuts.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council T-9 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.

FairPoint Strikers Hold Two Thursday Actions: Montpelier Rally, Boston Protest

fairness at Fairpoint strikers

IBEW President Edwin D. Hill headlines major rally in Montpelier; strikers and allies target FairPoint’s biggest shareholder in Boston

Strike by 1,700 FairPoint workers for good jobs and quality service becoming national story as walkout enters its second month

Officials in Vermont and elsewhere report that customer complaints against FairPoint have spiked since strike began

FairPoint strikers are mounting two actions on Thursday. IBEW President Edwin D. Hill is headlining a major rally in Montpelier, and a delegation of workers and allies are in Boston protesting against the telecom company’s biggest shareholder.

The 1,700 FairPoint workers of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine have been on strike for more than a month. Strikers say that damaging cuts the company is seeking would make it impossible for them to provide quality service to their New England customers.

“FairPoint is tearing up the foundations of the American middle class – all just to line the pockets of hedge fund managers and Wall Street raiders,” said IBEW President Edwin D. Hill. “FairPoint workers have made many sacrifices to help save this company through tough times in the past. It’s time for FairPoint to end this strike by returning to the negotiating table and giving its employees a fair deal.”

Hill is leading the rally on the State House Lawn, and is being joined by supporters from across the Northeast. The presence of Hill and other high-profile leaders and allies marks a major escalation in the fight to win a fair deal for New England.

“These hard-working men and women are fighting for good middle-class jobs across our region,” said Frank J. Carroll, Vice President of IBEW’s Second District, which includes New England. “This struggle isn’t just about FairPoint. It’s about the entire telecommunications industry. Whether it’s FairPoint or Verizon, we will not let these companies hurt the customers we serve by driving down standards and outsourcing jobs to low-wage temp workers.”

Since the strike began on October 17, FairPoint, which is headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., has been struggling to maintain its system with replacement workers hired from outside northern New England. On Monday, Vermont’s Department of Public Service reported that it has received 271 complaints from FairPoint customers during the strike, a significant increase.

In Boston, a delegation of strikers is gathering outside an investors’ conference attended by officials of Angelo, Gordon & Co., the Wall Street hedge fund that owns more than 20 percent of FairPoint’s stock. The strikers are being joined by dozens of Boston-area union members and activists, all of whom are calling on Angelo, Gordon to intervene in the FairPoint strike.

Angelo, Gordon manages billions of dollars in public pension funds, yet has refused to publicly intervene as FairPoint has moved to gut the pension and benefits of its workers.

“Wherever we’ve taken this fight, from Charlotte to New York to Boston, we’ve received tremendous support from fellow union members and the public,” said Diane Winton, President of IBEW Local 2327 in Maine. “They understand that we’re not just fighting for ourselves, we’re standing up for the good pay and benefits that every worker deserves.”

The strikers and their allies are protesting outside the Taj Hotel, where Angelo, Gordon officials are briefing attendees at the North American Family Office Conference. The conference is billed as “the leading, private meeting for ultra-affluent families in North America.” The Boston protest follows a similar rally last week in Manhattan, where Angelo, Gordon executives attended a conference for investment managers. Nearly 60 activists greeted attendees at that November 12 meeting.

“No matter how far FairPoint executives and shareholders travel, we’re going to be there,” said Don Trementozzi, president of Communications Workers Local 1400. “We will not let this North Carolina company and its Wall Street investors evade their responsibilities to the people of New England.”

The negotiations for a new contract began in April, and from the outset FairPoint pressed to increase outsourcing, cut pay for new workers and slash benefits for all employees. The workers have offered more than $200 million in cost-saving compromises during the talks. But the company has not altered its initial demand for $700 million in deep and damaging cuts.

FairPoint officials did attend talks Tuesday in Boston arranged by a federal mediator. But once again the company refused to modify its demands.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council T-9 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.

Striking New England Workers, and the American Economy

Image from Fairness at Fairpoint

 

Image from Fairness at Fairpoint

Image from Fairness at Fairpoint

By Carol Driscoll

As a person who grew up in New England in a union household, I was very stirred to learn that on October 17 nearly 2,000 New England telecommunication workers—members of the IBEW and CWA—walked off their jobs in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, in a protest against unfair labor practices. They struck against FairPoint Communications, based in North Carolina and owned by five Wall Street hedge funds. At the expiration of their union contracts this past August, the company adamantly refused to sit down and negotiate, despite the unions’ willingness to do so. According to the Kennebec Journal, FairPoint “…asked the unions for $700 million in concessions, mostly by freezing pensions, eliminating health coverage for retirees and asking employees to contribute…20 percent to their health care costs.”

 Why They Went on Strike

The company’s demands are patently ridiculous. The persons in this unionized workforce are skilled, productive men and women who perform some of the most grueling and dangerous work—telephone line repairs and installations—including in all kinds of weather. They have a sense of their value, and refused to accept the company’s offensive “offers.” The fact that FairPoint did not want to continue negotiations is telling. In recent years slashing labor costs by eliminating union workers is a prime function of hedge funds, and to achieve this they must kill the unions’ collective bargaining agreements. Peter Keefe, the unions’ bargaining chair, explained: “The money they’re trying to cut out of our contracts will go right back to the hedge funds. This is a Main Street versus Wall Street fight. It’s not just telecommunications and FairPoint. This is what’s going on in America today.”

Another big issue in the negotiations is job security. The company wants to outsource the jobs of these workers to out-of-state and foreign contractors. “The main reason we are standing out here,” said Randall Curtis on a picket line, “is because we are trying to keep good jobs in Maine. The company wants the ability to outsource all of our work…and we’re fighting to keep those jobs here, to keep them local.”

What’s Going On in America Today?

It’s heartening to me that union officials are aligning their struggles with those of Main Street Americans. However, what the fight is really about needs to be seen more clearly. I say this as a person who worked nearly 25 years for unions on the international and local levels. I love what they represent: their large meaning for the life of every American. I’m deeply grateful for what I’ve been learning these years about unions and the American economy from my study of Aesthetic Realism, the comprehensive education founded in 1941 by Eli Siegel. I learned, for example, that profit economics is based on contempt: on using the labor of working men and women to enrich owners and shareholders—who do not do the work—at the expense of these workers. In the instance of FairPoint, the majority of profits from the labor of nearly 2,000 individuals goes to five Wall Street investors, and when profits go down, the people who do the work are asked to give concessions. To hell with this! Why should these workers have to forfeit their hard-won benefits that they earned day in and day out, year after year?

I’ve learned that unions, from their very beginning, have been a force for ethics and against this contempt. Union workers fought for—and sometimes died for–an honest seeing of what people deserve, and their struggles courageously go on. As a union member in Waterville put it, “You have to fight for what’s right, and it isn’t always easy…but it’s absolutely worth it.”

One of my most ardent wishes is that every union official study what Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, has explained about our economy, the role of unions, and the fierce efforts to destroy them. For instance, in her commentary to The Battle of Insistences she writes:

Beginning in 1970, Mr. Siegel explained that an economy based on the profit motive—on seeing people in terms of how much financial gain one can extract from them—was no longer able to carry on successfully. The profit system would never recover, though it might be made to limp along at the cost of enormous pain to people. Profit economics is a form of contempt. It arises from this assumption, which is also an insistence: certain people should own much more of the world than others, and can use those others to aggrandize themselves.

However, by the 1970s, another insistence had, as Mr. Siegel said come to a tangibility. He called it the force of ethics. And this ethical insistence, working through history, had made it so that by the end of the 20th century private profits were much more difficult to obtain….In the last years, I have been describing the following fact: those who insist that the profit way must be the basis of our economy have been trying to do the one thing that can now keep it going. That one thing is: make Americans work for less and less pay, so more and more of the money they earn with their labor can go into the pockets of the owners, who don’t do the work. Only by increasingly impoverishing the American people can the profit system now go on. Of course, to pay people less and less, to impoverish them successfully, one must try to annihilate unions. Unions—which have fought for and won better economic lives for people over the decades, are one of the biggest embodiments of ethics as a force.

A personal note: It very much affects me that some of the strong actions on behalf of ethics are taking place in Maine. My husband, photographer Harvey Spears and I spend time there every year.  I love its vastness, its beautiful landscapes, and its rocky coastlines. But I’ve also seen firsthand the hurtful effects of profit economics, showing in low wages, which make food pantries shamefully necessary in places both urban and rural.

Eli Siegel asked this kind, crucial question about economics: What does a person deserve by being a person? When this is answered honestly, the folks in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and everywhere else in the U.S. will have a new economy, one that is based on ethics—and one they rightly deserve.

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