Ten weeks in, striking FairPoint workers, supporters rally on State House lawn

Last modified: 12/20/2014 1:46:40 AM
Roughly 200 people marched and chanted outside the State House this afternoon, including striking employees of FairPoint Communications, and one man dressed as Santa Claus.

“All I want for Christmas is a fair contract,” read many of their signs.

Nearly 2,000 FairPoint workers in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont have been on strike since October, claiming the company won’t negotiate in good faith with them and refuses to compromise as the sides attempt to broker a new contract.

“This is the season of hope. Look around. We have friends. We will stand up for each other,” said Glenn Brackett, business manager of the Manchester-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Holding the march and rally on the State House lawn was not intended as a message to Gov. Maggie Hassan or other state lawmakers, Brackett said.

“The goal today is to convince FairPoint to come back to the bargaining table,” he said. “The governor has done a very good job in a difficult situation.”

Just before the rally, Hassan’s spokesman William Hinkle released a statement saying he met with the company leaders earlier this week to encourage the reopening of negotiations.

Hassan “is concerned about the disruption in FairPoint services and its impact on the state’s communications infrastructure, our public safety systems and economy, as well as the company’s overall commitment to the people and businesses of New Hampshire,” the statement read.

A man who said he has worked for telephone companies in New Hampshire for 30 years, who declined to give his name, said he believes this strike is different than the last large-scale labor action for the company’s workers, a 16-week strike in 1989.

“There’s more support this time from the general public,” he said. “The people realize why we’re doing this, to combat the corporate greed.”

Danny Keating, a steelworker from a non-union shop in Nashua, was one of those supporters.

He marched with the strikers “because it’s important to defend the living standards of workers throughout the state,” he said.

FairPoint customers in northern New England have been complaining about outages since the first snowstorm of the season last month.

As of Monday, the state Public Utilities Commission fielded 348 customer communications regarding FairPoint so far this month. By comparison, in December 2013, 131 FairPoint customers contacted the PUC, said Amanda Noonan, commission director of consumers affairs. The commission forwards those complaints to the company, she said.

The attorney general’s Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau also continues to receive complaints from FairPoint customers, said Jim Boffetti, senior assistant attorney general.

Brackett repeatedly emphasized the potential impact to the state’s economy by the failure of replacement workers to maintain the communications infrastructure. He also repeatedly highlighted the fact that FairPoint’s headquarters are in North Carolina and not under the same risk of outages.

“This entire state is vulnerable,” he said. “In North Carolina, they have Internet access, they have 9-1-1 and their telephones work, because the communities where FairPoint’s executives live aren’t served by FairPoint.”

FairPoint Spokeswoman Angelynne Beaudry did not address that question in a statement to the Monitor, and blamed recent outages on the weather.

“We have stated to the unions that we remain willing to consider and constructively respond to any serious counterproposal that meaningfully addresses the company’s core issues in this negotiation. To date, we have not received any such proposals. The ball is in their court,” she said.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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