PORTLAND, Maine — Weekend votes to give union negotiators at FairPoint Communications the ability to declare a strike were held up by high service demands that prevented some workers from attending meetings at sites in other states.
Peter McLaughlin, lead negotiator and chairman of a regional council of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, wrote in an email Monday that an unusually high number of customers needing service over the weekend in Vermont and New Hampshire required some members to report for work and made them unable to get to strike-vote meetings scheduled Saturday and Sunday.
“We will not have a good tally until … Friday night,” McLaughlin wrote.
The vote is a routine measure in the contract negotiation process. But those negotiations have been tense, particularly over the issue of how the company can decide to hire outside contractors.
FairPoint spokeswoman Angelynne Amores Beaudry wrote to the Bangor Daily News last week that the company wants to bring its contracts with its workers organized under the IBEW and Communications Workers of America “into the mainstream.”
That proposal includes freezing defined benefit plan contributions for union workers and changes she said would bring those workers’ medical coverage, life insurance, disability and 401K retirement plan benefits in line with the rest of the company.
McLaughlin said the primary impasse was whether company officials can decide to hire outside contractors without first consulting the unions, which the current contract requires and which was the topic of a long legal battle that the union won in a 2013 federal appeals court ruling.
McLaughlin wrote that the union and company have three negotiation meetings scheduled this week and meetings every day during the week of July 21. The current IBEW and CWA contracts, covering more than 2,000 workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, expire Aug. 2.
A strike authorization vote would allow union leaders to declare a strike after Aug. 2, if the two sides cannot come to terms.