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.