In Wake of Strike Vote, FairPoint Vows to Maintain Service
FairPoint Communications says it's making preparations to keep telephone and Internet service up and running should some 2000 union workers walk off the job next month.
The company has tens of thousands of customers in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. FairPoint - and employees represented by International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America - have been unable to reach a new contract agreement.
Over the weekend, a majority of FairPoint employees in Maine and Vermont voted to authorize a strike, if no agreement is reached by the time the current contract expires on Aug. 2. The company's workers in New Hampshire are still casting ballots. But, so far, union leaders say they're sending the same message as their colleagues next door.
"The way the vote is going, it's overwhelmingly in favor of giving us the authority to strike if needed," says Peter McLaughlin, the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327. "We've got a couple more weeks before the deadline. Hopefully, we'll come to some resolution. But there are some huge issues that need to be resolved."
McLaughlin says FairPoint wants to retain the right to continue outsourcing work to less expensive contract employees, something the unions strongly object to. He says the two sides also remain far apart over proposals to freeze pension contributions, eliminate retiree health care and make changes to workers' current medical coverage.
FairPoint, which emerged from bankruptcy in 2011, says it needs to seek concessions to save money and bring the contracts into the mainstream. Angie Beaudry is a company spokesperson. "We have been meeting since April 25th," she says. "We've had several sessions since then. We've presented 65 proposals. They have countered with about a dozen."
FairPoint has complained that none of those counter offers would save the company any money. But the unions say FairPoint has withheld key specifics about certain proposals, forcing them to file complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. McLaughlin says the strike vote increases pressure on both sides to get a deal done.
"I don't know if the company thinks we're kidding or what, but we're certainly not kidding," he says. "You know, you don't kid around with people's livelihood. This is serious business."
McLaughlin say his members are prepared to walk off the job if a deal can't be reached by Aug. 2. If that happens, Angie Beaudry says FairPoint will be prepared.
"Here at FairPoint, we do have plans in place to assure that service to our customers continue, without interruption, in the event of a strike," she says.
Beaudry would not offer more details on exactly what those plans entail. Negotiators for the unions and FairPoint are scheduled to resume talks tomorrow.