Despite working past contract expiration,
FairPoint employees can still strike at will
Union leaders say company still refusing to compromise on any proposal
On Saturday night, just before the midnight expiration of contracts covering nearly 2,000 FairPoint workers across Northern New England, leaders of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council T9 and Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1400 announced that their members would continue working and not go on strike. According to union leaders, negotiations will continue and employees will be covered by most provisions of the expired contracts. However, the unions can now call a strike or the company could lock workers out at any time without prior notice.
Union leaders and management have been in bargaining over a new contract since April, and negotiations have been tense from the start. In the last two weeks, the company has resorted to increasingly aggressive tactics meant to intimidate workers. Union leaders say this demonstrates management’s lack of commitment to reaching a fair agreement. 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.
“They are trying to bully us into submitting to their demands,” said Glenn Brackett, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2320 in Manchester, NH. “But we will not be bullied, and we’ll continue fighting for our families and our communities as long as we have to.”
Union negotiators have put forward several proposals that would save the company over $180 million. The company has rejected these and every other cost-saving proposal that the unions have made.
Union leaders say they are deeply concerned about management’s demand to be able to replace local, well-trained workers with low-wage, out-of-state contractors. “Most of the current employees have been working for the phone company for decades and we know our customers and our systems better than any outside contractor ever will,” said Peter McLaughlin, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2327 in Augusta, Maine. “Customers will suffer if the company gets its way. But management cares more about cutting costs and giving that money to their hedge fund owners than in investing in our communities.”
“Our unions have shown a willingness to compromise from the start,” said Don Trementozzi, President of CWA Local 1400. “But it looks to us like the company’s strategy from the beginning has been to lock out workers so they can replace them with out-of-town contractors. It’s a blatant attempt to gut good jobs in this region. Our members are unified and have the support of many allies and community members. We will not stand by and let this corporation and its Wall Street cronies get away with it.”