PORTLAND, Maine — The National Labor Relations Board delivered a blow to the two striking unions at FairPoint Communications, dismissing three allegations that the company violated federal labor laws during tense negotiations leading up to the strike that has been ongoing since October.

Region 1 of the board dismissed a total of six complaints from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America, but the unions said Tuesday they plan to appeal one of the rulings to a national panel, where they already are challenging some prior dismissals.

Peter McLaughlin, a lead negotiator for the IBEW, said in a prepared statement that the decision “is not surprising.”

“Unfortunately, U.S. labor law favors corporations like FairPoint, not working people,” McLaughlin said.

In a statement, the company confirmed notice of the dismissals issued Monday by the National Labor Relations Board and said it demonstrates the board’s conclusion that “there was no basis to the allegations.”

Chief among the complaints was the union’s contention that FairPoint was wrong to end negotiations and impose the terms of its last contract offer on the approximately 1,700 New England employees who went on strike in mid-October. About 800 Maine employees are on strike.

In its decision, the National Labor Relations Board said it found the company and unions had reached a legitimate impasse, allowing the company to impose its last offer.

“The investigation disclosed that after approximately 25 bargaining sessions, the parties were at impasse over the critical issues of subcontracting, wages and employee benefits,” the decision stated.

The complaints also included allegations that the company did not provide adequate information to demonstrate a need for the concessions it had requested, which the unions pegged at about $700 million. Union officials have said they returned to the bargaining table offering more than $200 million in concessions, but the company rejected those proposals.

The National Labor Relations Board stated its investigation showed the union provided its first comprehensive proposal to the company on July 31, about a month before its contract expired.

The National Labor Relations Board said it did not find evidence proving FairPoint failed and refused to provide relevant and necessary corporate information to union officials, handing over about 11,000 pages of documentation through the negotiations.

A central issue in the dispute was how much leeway the company would have in hiring outside contractors for certain work. The company said its offer included a provision to prevent it from any outside contracting that would result in union layoffs, but union officials saw that measure as a threat to their job security.

The imposed contracts also introduced a lower pay scale for new hires and a health care plan that raised costs for union members.

The latest dismissals from the National Labor Relations Board come about four months after most of the complaints were filed with the board’s regional office in Boston.

In total, the unions have filed seven separate complaints against the company from July to October. It withdrew one complaint that the company improperly changed its internal communication policy about cellphones and social media communication after the two unions’ contracts expired Aug. 2.

The rest of the cases have been dismissed, with both unions have appealed dismissals of their complaints that the company did not provide adequate information, that it began giving managers union-designated work starting in July and that it did not have adequate grounds for declaring an impasse in negotiations.

The National Labor Relations Board complaints were one way the unions hoped to pressure FairPoint during the strike. Meanwhile, striking union members have been without wages and health care, which the company in October revoked for employees on strike.

Since the strike, Maine regulators have said they’ve received a higher volume of complaints about FairPoint service.

The company will have to reveal details of service quality issues on most of its land-line phones for the last three months of the year in a report due to state regulators in January.


Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.