Four unions representing telecommunications company Consolidated Communications’ workers in northern New England said Wednesday that a majority of members have authorized union leaders to call a strike if ongoing negotiations don’t produce an acceptable outcome by the time the current contract expires at midnight Aug. 4.
However, Peter McLaughlin, business manager of IBEW Local 2327 — which represents about 500 Consolidated workers in Maine — said the tone of the meetings, which started in April, has been “significantly better” than during a contentious strike more than three years ago with former owner FairPoint Communications. That strike resulted in a 131-day walkout.
Consolidated completed the $1.3 billion deal to buy FairPoint in July 2017.
“At least there’s a dialogue,” he told the Bangor Daily News. “There is progress, but there still are significant hurdles.”
“I’m optimistic we’ll be able to come to an agreement that the membership can vote on by the Aug. 4 deadline,” he added.
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327 is joined by IBEW Local 2320 in New Hampshire, IBEW Local 232 in Vermont and Communications Workers of America Local 1400 in New Hampshire. A total of 1,200 workers are involved, according to McLaughlin.
Consolidated spokesman Ryan Whitlock said his company has been negotiating with union leaders for months in good faith.
“We operate a competitive business which means effectively managing our resources to ensure competitive services for our customers,” he wrote in an email to the BDN.
“The company is pursuing subcontracting flexibility to allow for the use of additional labor resources to expedite the repair, maintenance and installation of services for customers,” he wrote.
He said the company has not proposed that any IBEW-represented employee will be laid off as a result of using subcontracted resources. He said Consolidated also has offered to hire additional IBEW represented jobs to assist in overseeing the quality and safety of resources.
“Like most companies in our industry, access to flexible resources to address the changing workload demands from storms, investment in our broadband network expansion or everyday maintenance of our plant facilities is critical,” Whitlock wrote. “At this point, our goal is to work with union leadership to continue to negotiate and reach an agreement; however, we have a comprehensive contingency plan in place to minimize any potential service disruption.”
McLaughlin said Consolidated wants to farm some work out of state to save money, and also is trying to trim benefits, paid time off and retirement benefits. He said the unions want to keep the benefits they have.
“They are asking for a significant decrease in benefits and time off,” he said. He could not specify the exact amount of the proposed cuts by consolidated.
A strike authorization vote is needed as a precursor to a strike. However, it does not require union members to go on strike.
McLaughlin said if a strike did occur, it most likely would affect new customers needing installations or current customers requiring maintenance work.
The talks will continue Thursday, Friday and until the contract has expired, he said.
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