PORTLAND, Maine — Striking FairPoint workers from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont gathered in Monument Square on Saturday afternoon to rally for what they say is a fair contract that would maintain “good jobs and good service” in northern New England.
“No contract, no peace,” the crowd chanted, led by Diane Winton, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 2327, which represents nearly 1,700 striking Fairpoint workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Then, “One day longer, one day stronger.”
“Are we ready to burn down the goddamn house, or are we going to let them live in a house that we built for them,” shouted Don Trementozzi, president of the Communications Workers of America, which represents another 300 striking workers.
About 2,000 FairPoint workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont have been on strike since Oct. 17. Negotiations for a new contract began in April, but in August the federal mediation process broke down and the unions voted to strike.
The unions said they proposed more than $200 million in concessions and the company sought about $700 million from the unions that represent about 2,000 workers across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
On Tuesday, FairPoint communications officials agreed to return to bargaining with the union on Nov. 18 in a meeting called by a federal mediator in Boston.
But Jenn Nappi of the IBEW said Saturday that FairPoint has not changed its position whatsoever, “so I’m not overwhelmed with optimism.”
Nappi said FairPoint management is determined to hire “low-wage, temporary, unskilled labor,” and that under its current proposal, all new employees would be hired at minimum wage.
“Bargaining is meeting somewhere in the middle, and they haven’t come down at all,” said Patrick Shane of Vinalhaven, who has worked for the same company since 1986, when it was New England Telephone. Shane said he stood on a picket line for 16 weeks in 1989, and is prepared to do so again.
“From the very beginning of April, these folks have been out to get our jobs,” Peter McLaughlin, chairman of the IBEW System Council T9, shouted to cheers from the crowd.
When McLaughlin referred to contact workers currently filling FairPoint jobs, they chanted, “Scabs go home.”
Dory Waxman, owner of Old Port Wool & Textile Co., said FairPoint’s response to the recent storm was “disastrous.”
“As a small-business person, I can’t afford to have unreliable service by unskilled workers,” she said.
“Our guys know to go out right before [a storm] with generators” to ensure high-risk customers don’t lose power,” Nappi said. “That didn’t happen, and they are buried. They claimed all along that they’re prepared for this, but one rainstorm and they’re not meeting their commitments. We want to get back to work and clean this mess up.”
FairPoint spokeswoman Angelynne Amores Beaudry declined on Saturday to give specific numbers of customers affected by the storm, but said the state’s 911 system was not affected and that FairPoint’s “contingency workforce” was deployed to address last week’s storm.
In a statement issued Saturday morning, Beaudry reiterated that the average striker’s paycheck totaled $82,500 in 2013 — “nearly twice the median personal income in the region.”
She said FairPoint is not seeking wage concessions, and that the company’s proposal to hire contract workers would not result in the layoff of any unionized employees.
No politicians spoke at Saturday’s rally, but Nappi said that given the amount of rhetoric during the election about increasing jobs in Maine, “I’d like to see these newly elected politicians stand up for the existing jobs.”
Gino Dushku, a Verizon worker from New York with the Communications Workers for America, drove to Portland on Friday to support the strikers. He said that in nine months, when Verizon attempts to negotiate a new contract, workers there may well be in the same position.
Dushku, who serves as chief steward for the CWA 1103, said he worries for Maine workers after last week’s elections.
“Who helps the corporations and who helps the working people? How many politicians are here right now supporting Fairpoint workers?” he asked. “If you vote in people who aren’t going to help you, you get what you deserve.”