FairPoint unions say they need more information about merger

Posted Jan. 06, 2017, at 6:36 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 06, 2017, at 5:28 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Two unions representing about 550 FairPoint workers in Maine have told state regulators they need more information before forming an opinion about the company’s prospective buyer, the Illinois-based Consolidated Communications.

The unions on Thursday asked regulators for special access to their review of FairPoint’s request to allow the $1.5 billion sale, saying they want more information about the buyer’s ability to take over FairPoint’s vast phone and fiber-optic networks in the state.

“For instance,” the unions wrote, “Labor Intervenors want to determine the extent to which Consolidated has experience providing service over a large geographic area containing a diverse mix of business, government, nonprofit and residential customers in urban, suburban and rural areas that is found in FairPoint-Maine’s service territory.”

The chapters of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers that represent FairPoint’s Maine workers filed to intervene in the case.

If granted, the union would gain access to confidential information the company files to satisfy regulators that the deal is in the public interest.

The company has told regulators that the deal represents only a change at the holding company level and that customers won’t notice a difference when the transaction closes.

The purchase would increase Consolidated’s ownership of landline telephone networks, which the unions said they want to be sure the prospective buyer can maintain. A presentation to investors delivered Dec. 5 showed Consolidated gets about 83 percent of its revenue from business and broadband service. FairPoint gets about 32 percent of its revenue primarily from residential landline service.

FairPoint continues to operate various smaller telephone subsidiaries, including Northern New England Telephone Operations, China Telephone Co., Maine Telephone Co., Northland Telephone Co. of Maine, Sidney Telephone Co., Standish Telephone Co. and Community Service Telephone Co.

The unions wrote Consolidated’s capacity to provide landline and wholesale service should be “a central issue” in regulators determining whether the deal is in the public interest, citing recent layoffs as having a negative impact on service quality. The company laid off about 30 Maine employees at the end of December as part of a cut of about 100 jobs across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Mike Shultz, Consolidated’s vice president of regulatory and public policy, said in December that the company has experience with rural voice customers in Illinois and Minnesota and areas of California, Philadelphia and Texas, where it provides regulated phone service.

The unions also said they want special access in the case because they’re not sure they’ve seen the full scope of the proposed sale or have a clear idea of what it means for the unions.

The unions said they hoped to get more information on a variety of other topics about Consolidated, including how it will treat union contracts, whether it has plans to outsource jobs now done by New England FairPoint employees and the buyer’s ability to maintain and improve service quality.

 

CORRECTION:

A previous version of this story misstated the share of revenue Consolidated gets from its broadband service.

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