PORTLAND, Maine — After delayed votes in New Hampshire, two unions representing about 2,000 FairPoint Communications employees said a majority of workers across northern New England have authorized negotiators to call a strike after their contract is set to expire Aug. 2.
The union reported Saturday morning that voting this weekend showed “an overwhelming majority” of union members supported the measure, though votes were still being counted in New Hampshire, where meetings were delayed last weekend by service demands. The vote does not mean the union will certainly strike if negotiations are unsuccessful by Aug. 2.
A FairPoint spokeswoman said last week the company has a plan to continue service to its customers in the event of a strike. The North Carolina-based company services roughly 700,000 telephone lines in Maine.
Local unions of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communications Workers of America voted.
Peter McLaughlin, a lead negotiator for the IBEW, said in a prepared statement the company has taken a hard line on certain issues during the negotiations.
“We continue to try to bargain in good faith, but the company has taken a ‘my way or the highway’ approach,” McLaughlins said. “If they won’t work with us to reach a mutually agreeable contract, we may be left with a strike as our only option.”
Don Tremontozzi, president of the CWA, said the company’s desire to hire outside contractors without seeking approval from the union, as the current contract requires, remains an impasse in the negotiations and that the company’s proposal “only helps the Wall Street hedge fund that owns the company.”
Union officials have raised concerns in the past that the contract negotiations and a request for $67.6 million from a state fund to help subsidize rural landline service are precursors to investors selling the company.
Angelynne Amores Beaudry said last week the company’s proposal to the unions “seeks concessions to bring the contracts in into the mainstream,” saying it would align benefits such as medical coverage and 401(k) retirement plans with the company’s nonunion workers. Beaudry said the company is seeking more latitude to hire outside experts and vendors to keep up with changes in technology.
The company’s retention of outside contractors for longer than six months was the subject of a 2013 federal appeals court ruling, which the union won.
McLaughlin told the Bangor Daily News last week the union and company negotiators have meetings scheduled every day of the week, starting Monday.