By Ramona du Houx - October 21st, 2014Tuesday marks the fifth day of a strike against FairPoint Communications by nearly 2,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The strike began last Friday after FairPoint walked out of negotiations and unilaterally imposed contract terms that cut retiree health care, froze pensions, and increased health care costs.
Hundreds of FairPoint employees continue to picket 12 hours a day at dozens of sites across Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. They have been joined by supporters from other unions in the region and by elected leaders, including Members of Congress from Maine Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree and New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan.
With the arrival of the season’s first nor’easter this week, experienced technicians are expressing concern that FairPoint’s replacement workers will be unable to handle the challenges that come with high winds and heavy rain.
“With the impending storm, generators are key to keeping DSL and phone lines working. If I were at work right now, I’d be talking to my foreman and testing generators and conducting important system checks to make sure they’re ready to go out into the field. I’m not sure the replacement workers have the experience to know how to prep for a storm around here. A lot of them are from outside the area and not familiar with our equipment,” said Chris Whidden, a Lewiston, Maine-based service technician who has been on the job for 19 years.
Whidden went on to talk about the local knowledge that’s vital to keeping people connected.
"We know exactly where the trouble spots are—where back-up batteries are weakest and where phone and DSL lines are most likely to go down, so we’d jump in our trucks and head to those spots first. There aren’t alarms that tell us where all the batteries are running low—you know from experience. Some inexperienced replacement worker from down South isn’t going to know where to go—and also isn’t going to know our back roads or be able to navigate easily in the dark. If a tree blocks Dyer Road, he won’t know how to find another route to get the backup generators where they’re needed.”
The result, says Whidden, is that people trying to dial out to check on neighbors and family—or to make vital 911 calls—won’t have the service they need.
Workers on the picket lines stress that they are on the same side as their customers. They say they want Northern New England to have the best possible phone and Internet service. To provide 21st-century technology to businesses, schools, and families requires well-trained, experienced, local workers who know the system.
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.