FairPoint protesting about unfair cuts during a strike protest in Boston, November 20th.
By Ramona du Houx
FairPoint officials refused to modify their demand for $700 million in cuts at a negotiation meeting November 18, 2014, in Boston, Mass. A federal mediator arranged the meeting, which was an attempt to jump-start contract talks that FairPoint abruptly ended this summer.
FairPoint’s nearly 2,000 union workers have been on strike since October 17 because of the company's unfair practices. The workers are calling on FairPoint to return to the table and negotiate an agreement that maintains good jobs and quality service for New England.
“The company began these talks demanding $700 million in crippling cuts, and today they’re still making the same demand,” said Peter McLaughlin, Chair of System Council T-9 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). “They’re not trying to find common ground with us, they’re trying to turn good middle-class jobs into low-wage jobs with bare-bones benefits.”
The company walked away from negotiations with its union workers in August and imposed proposals that slash all workers’ benefits and cut pay for most new employees by more than 20 percent.
"If FairPoint cuts the pay of new employees by 20 percent and slashes the benefits of all workers, they're going to lose their highly skilled workers. And we're seeing what a disaster that would be during this strike. Low-paid, unqualified contractors can't provide the high-quality service our customers deserve," said Peter McLaughlin, Chair of the Fairpoint workers' bargaining team.
Before going on strike, the workers spent nearly two months trying to reopen talks with the company.
“This North Carolina company can keep dragging its heels, but we will win a fair deal for New England,” said Mike Spillane, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2326 in Vermont. “We will not allow them to outsource the good jobs of New England and turn them into temp jobs filled by out-of-state contractors.”
“FairPoint’s attack on its skilled workers is an attack on the customers we serve,” said Don Trementozzi, President of Communications Workers of America Local 1400. “FairPoint’s executives need to understand northern New England’s telecom network isn’t their own personal profit center. It’s the lifeline of the people we serve.”
FairPoint, a North Carolina-based company largely owned by Wall Street hedge funds, has hired replacement workers during the strike, but they are struggling to maintain the company’s network. There have been reports of widespread service interruptions and long lag times fixing storm-related outages.
“You can’t run a high-tech company with low-wage workers,” said Glenn Brackett, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2320 in New Hampshire. “Every day they prolong this strike is one more day they’re forcing substandard service on our customers in northern New England.”
Throughout the contract talks, which began in April, FairPoint has insisted on $700 million in deep and damaging cuts. The union has offered $200 million in cost savings, but the company has refused to make a single substantive compromise in bargaining.
After the breakdown of negotiations FairPoint strikers mounted two actions on November 20 ,2014. IBEW President Edwin D. Hill is headed a major rally in Montpelier, VT, and a delegation of workers and allies were back in Boston where they protested against the telecom company’s biggest shareholder.