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FairPoint declares impasse in labor talks

FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2009 file photo, Peter Adams, a telephone line splicer for FairPoint Communications, works from a bucket in Freeport, Maine. The telephone service provider for Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont declared an impasse after four months of labor negotiations. More than 1,700 workers were advised by union officials Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, to be on “standby” for a possible strike or lockout.  (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2009 file photo, Peter Adams, a telephone line splicer for FairPoint Communications, works from a bucket in Freeport, Maine. The telephone service provider for Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont declared an impasse after four months of labor negotiations. More than 1,700 workers were advised by union officials Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, to be on “standby” for a possible strike or lockout. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

FairPoint Communications has declared an impasse after four months of labor negotiations, while more than 1,700 workers for the company were advised by union officials yesterday to be on “standby” for a possible strike or lockout.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communication Workers of America accused FairPoint – which provides telephone service in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont – of violating federal law and asked the National Labor Relations Board to reinstate the contract that expired Aug. 2.

Peter McLaughlin, chairman of the unions’ bargaining committee, said contract negotiations that began in April have been a “one-way street” with cost-savings proposals by the union but no movement by FairPoint. The company said it must reduce labor costs and that it’s willing to listen to further proposals by the unions.

“FairPoint has proved beyond any doubt that they don’t care about anything – employees or customers. It’s all about corporate greed,” said Mike Spillane, business manager of IBEW Local 2326 in Vermont.

Effective yesterday morning, FairPoint imposed its final offer, which it says is permitted under federal law. The plan freezes the current pension plan and eliminates retiree health care benefits.

The unions fumed over the company’s decision, declaring that there was no impasse and that the company was refusing to negotiate in good faith. Workers were told be on “standby” for a strike or lockout as union leaders assessed the company’s 100-page plan, said Jen Nappi, IBEW assistant business manager in Augusta, Maine.

North Carolina-based FairPoint contended the old contract that retained benefits workers had enjoyed under Verizon was out of sync with industry norms.

The company declared an impasse after unions offered a new proposal Wednesday. Labor leaders were notified of the company’s decision after negotiations broke up Wednesday evening.

By yesterday morning, word reached the workforce, leaving workers in a panic, Spillane said.

The company plan that went into effect keeps wages unchanged, but it addresses some of FairPoint’s key concerns: pension liability and health care costs.

Under the new plan, the company is freezing the existing defined benefit pension plan, while preserving employees’ accrued benefits that will be rolled over into a new plan. The company also is requiring current employees to share some health care costs for the first time, and eliminating retiree health care benefits for current employees.

The proposal also allows the company to outsource jobs, one of the unions’ biggest concerns during the negotiations. But the company contends contractors cannot be hired if it causes layoffs, said company spokeswoman Angelynne Amores Beaudry.

The two unions said the company hadn’t put forth a counter-offer to any union proposal in recent weeks.

“The company has refused to bargain with us, and their negotiators have even attempted to intimidate and bully us throughout the process,” said Glenn Brackett from IBEW Local 2320 in Manchester.

FairPoint, which bills itself as the nation’s sixth-largest telecom, provides telephone service and high-speed Internet access in 17 states. The lion’s share of its business is in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, where it has about 1 million lines.

The company bought Verizon’s landline holdings in northern New England for $2.3 billion in 2007 and then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy 18 months later after losing customers because of operational and integration problems.

The IBEW complaining about corporate greed? What a laugh! I've watched and listened to the IBEW members and their leader Joe Casey shill for the greediest of all corporations as they have tried every trick in the book to ram their damaging no pass proposal through NH at the public's expense just to bolster their own bottom line. Back room deals, eminent domain, ratepayer subsidies, devalued properties and small businesses, you name it - they've tried it - and the IBEW has been there all the way as their only real ally. I see they know what corporate greed means but can only recognize it when they're on the receiving end instead of handing it out. How does it feel? I hope FairPoint teaches them a good lesson that they should have learned in kindergarten. Do onto others………..etc. Hey IBEW, have you ever heard of karma? What comes around, goes around.

IBEW and other unions should change their name to IWW-I won't work. Stop Northern Pass.

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