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, out of state contractors.
But now, after months on the picket lines, growing community support for the workers, and a final round of productive negotiations, FairPoint announced May 15 that it 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.
|Nearly 2,000 IBEW and CWA members working for FairPoint Communications in New England mounted a strike last winter after encountering strong-arm tactics from the company during contract talks.
The move comes as a shock to workers and union leaders, who said that the layoffs will continue the company’s slide toward less-reliable customer service for residents of the region.
“FairPoint has failed to meet service quality benchmarks for years, and cutting its skilled workforce by more than 10 percent will only make matters worse,” said Local 2327 Business Manager Peter McLaughlin. “We are disgusted by this company’s total disregard for its employees and customers.”
IBEW and CWA leaders met with FairPoint management June 2 to discuss ways to hold the company to their 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.
“As soon as we have additional details … we will communicate them to you. In addition, we will work with the state AFL-CIOs to provide rapid response advice on unemployment and other benefits for those who will be laid off.”
FairPoint’s reputation took a hit during last winter’s strike, when customer complaints spiked while time lagged for service repairs, according to Maine’s Bangor Daily News.
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 sharply 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 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.”
At the time, the company told the public that its contingency work force – 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.
Read more from the unions’ negotiating team at www.fairnessatfairpoint.com.