The Electrical Worker online
August 2015

As FairPoint Seeks Layoffs,
a 'Total Disregard' for Skilled Workforce
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Nearly 2,000 FairPoint workers throughout New England went on strike for five months last October after the company sought millions in concessions, canceled health benefits for strikers, slashed pensions and sought to outsource jobs to low-paid contractors.

But now, after growing community support for the workers and a final round of productive negotiations, they returned to the job just in time for the May announcement that the company is laying off 260 workers across 17 states.

IBEW workers are represented by Manchester, N.H., Local 2320; Montpelier, Vt., Local 2326; and Augusta, Maine, Local 2327. FairPoint also employs members of the Communications Workers of America Local 1400 in New Hampshire. These employees will bear the brunt of the cuts, as the company plans to slash 219 positions in northern New England.

Union members picketed at the company headquarters in Portland, Maine, on June 18, sending the message that such drastic cuts will continue the company's slide toward less-reliable customer service for residents of the region.

Local 2327 Business Manager Peter McLaughlin said that the layoffs were unnecessary given the large amount of work needed to sustain the company's infrastructure.

"There is absolutely no shortage of work out there," McLaughlin said. "Right now, the company is forcing hundreds of workers to work overtime and many are on permanent standby at locations where the company is planning to cut positions. It defies common sense."

McLaughlin said that FairPoint has failed to meet service quality benchmarks for years, and that cutting its skilled workforce by more than 10 percent will only make matters worse.

IBEW and CWA leaders met with FairPoint management in June to discuss ways to hold the company to its collective bargaining agreement during the transition.

"We firmly believe this [layoff] is unnecessary and will further erode the already compromised quality of service for our customers," the union leaders said in a joint statement. "The company clearly cannot provide adequate service at the current staffing levels. As we all know, the company has been mismanaged from the moment FairPoint took over the business in 2008. Their allegiance is to the Wall Street hedge fund owners whose only priorities are higher share prices and a profitable sale of the northern New England business. Our priority has always been to fight for good jobs and quality service in our region, and that struggle continues."

Worker advocates say that the decision to lay off so many workers is less about increasing productivity and more about improving the company's financial picture in advance of a possible sale. FairPoint's CEO Paul Sunu has said he'd be open to a potential deal.

"Understanding the reality of a consolidating industry with intense competition … we must consider mergers and acquisitions as either a seller or a buyer as part of our overall strategy," Sunu said, as reported by the Bangor Daily News in June.

"It's a shame that this company is sacrificing hundreds of good, local jobs and our customers' trust in order to ensure the Wall Street hedge fund owners make a huge profit in a sale," said Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400. "What kind of telecommunications infrastructure will northern New Englanders be left with in the wake of FairPoint's slash and burn strategy?"

FairPoint's reputation took a hit during last winter's strike, when customer complaints spiked while time lagged for service repairs, according to figures from the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

For the months of October, November and December — while union members manned the picket lines — nearly 10,400 residents experienced outages lasting longer than 24 hours. That number eclipses the 8,000 similar problems reported for the same periods in 2011, 2012 and 2013 combined.

FairPoint also received 12,161 customer complaints during the last three months of 2014. That's a 29 percent increase from the previous three-year average. Last November — the first full month of the strike — saw a record 5,417 complaints, the highest in four years.

Area newspapers and blogs documented many customers' frustrations.

"I needed phone service for medical reasons," said Sheryl Hallahan, of Barrington, N.H., who went without service between Jan. 8-27. "When I tried to get reconnected, I was told that didn't matter. And when I talked to a manager, they wouldn't give me their name, and I didn't get a credit for lack of service," she told

At the time, the company told the public that its contingency workforce — which included lower-paid and lesser-skilled nonunion workers — was sufficient.

"The FairPoint network performed exceptionally during the work stoppage and our well-trained and qualified contract workforce provided superb support of that network," spokeswoman Angelynne Amores Beaudry told the Portland Press Herald in a written statement following the strike.

IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson praised the workforce for standing up for good New England jobs.

"These men and women helped bring the company out of bankruptcy, and they provide vital services in areas where many residents have no other options," Stephenson said. "Sadly, thousands of New Englanders can expect more of the same problems that they experienced last winter if FairPoint keeps cutting an already short-staffed workforce. We know the company cares about its hedge fund owners — it's questionable whether or not FairPoint cares about its customers."

Read more from the unions' negotiating team at


'We firmly believe this [layoff] is unnecessary and will further erode the already compromised quality of service for our customers,' the unions' negotiating team said in a written statement.


FairPoint's Hard Bargaining
Yields Customer Complaints

Service problems shot up dramatically during last winter's strike, when the company brought in a lesser-trained workforce to temporarily replace skilled employees on the picket lines. Here are statistics for the same time period over the last four years, showing the number of customer problems not resolved within 24 hours. Source: Maine Public Utilities Commission