PORTLAND, Maine — The two unions representing about 2,000 FairPoint Communications workers in Northern New England said company officials are walking away from contract negotiations and seeking to impose the terms of its most recent contract proposals.
Union representatives said the company notified them by email at 12:01 a.m. Thursday that management has declared an impasse in negotiations, a necessary step to putting the company’s latest contract offer into effect. The company issued a statement at 12:10 a.m., saying that talks had stalled after the union’s latest contract proposal.
“The company would prefer negotiated agreements but feels the offer being implemented … is fair to its hard-working and valued workforce,” spokeswoman Angelynne Amores Beaudry said in the prepared statement.
The company said the imposed agreement contains no change to wages, a freeze to its defined pension benefit plan, elimination of retiree medical coverage and “substantially the same benefit plans … as are available to management employees.”
The primary issue for those workers in the company’s proposed contract is that it would allow FairPoint to hire outside contract workers without consulting the union. That process was the subject of a long legal battle that the union won in a 2013 federal appeals court ruling finding the company wrongfully transferred union jobs to contractors in Canada and New York in 2009 and 2010.
Workers picketing outside of the company’s Portland offices off Riverside Street on Thursday morning said that they would continue working until further notice from union officials, whom they’ve authorized to call a strike.
“It’s business as usual,” said Dan Bourget, a customer sales representative who’s worked for the company for five years.
The company maintains the state’s telecommunications backbone, serving about 450,000 landline telephones in Maine and supporting its 911 emergency system.
Tim Schneider, Maine’s public advocate who represents the interest of consumers on regulatory matters, said maintaining service across that network is critical to the entire state.
“FairPoint’s network is an essential piece of the state’s telecommunication infrastructure that nearly every Mainer relies on, whether they are themselves a FairPoint customer or not,” Schneider said in an email. “We hope that recent developments don’t affect FairPoint’s ability to provide reliable service to its customers.”
The company and union did not respond to requests for comment early Thursday, but Beaudry said previously that the company has a plan in place in the event of a strike.
The stoppage in negotiations comes after the unions filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board arguing the company is not negotiating in good faith. Union members held “informational pickets” across the state Thursday morning in Bangor, Ellsworth and Portland.
Union leaders said they planned to meet Thursday morning with their attorneys to consider next steps and have instructed members to continue working until further notice.