PORTLAND, Maine — Two unions working beyond expiration of their contracts with FairPoint Communications held “informational” demonstrations at various locations across New England on Tuesday morning, in advance of continued negotiations Wednesday and Thursday.
The unions previously authorized their leaders to call a strike, which could create challenges for the company that services the telecommunications backbone for Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The North Carolina-based company’s recent earnings statement, logging a $22.7 million loss in the second quarter of the year, cautioned that a strike could harm its business.
As of Tuesday morning, the union and company continued to negotiate toward a new deal but have so far remained distant on issues both sides say are key.
Company spokeswoman Angelynne Amores Beaudry said in an email that the workers’ previous contracts are not suited to a competitive telecommunications industry, deregulated in Maine in 2012, and reflect “the monopoly environment of days gone by.”
Beaudry wrote that bringing the contracts “into the mainstream” will make the company “well positioned to price products and services competitively, continue our investment in the region’s infrastructure and continue our transformation to a technology-focused company.”
The group representing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers System Council T9 and Communications Workers of America Local 1400 said in a statement Monday that the demonstrations around the region aimed to inform the public about “their fight for a fair contract.”
“We’re hoping for the best,” said Jim Feeney, a technician with FairPoint at the Bangor demonstration Tuesday. “We’re fighting to keep Maine jobs at home.”
As of Monday, they had scheduled demonstrations at FairPoint offices in Bangor, Lewiston and Portland. Other demonstrations were scheduled in Manchester, New Hampshire, and South Burlington, Vermont.
“In particular, they are educating the public about the negative impact on customers of the company’s proposal to be able to replace union workers with low-skilled, out-of-state contractors,” the statement said.
Beaudry said in an earlier statement that the company’s stance on hiring contract workers addresses a need for flexibility in hiring experts and outside vendors “as technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace.”
The company and union are also battling over terms for pensions, medical benefits and other issues.
The company said the contract covers about 1,700 of its 2,550 workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The group Fairness at Fairpoint, representing the two unions, indicates on its website that it represents about 2,000 of the company’s employees.
Visuals editor Brian Feulner contributed to this report.