Originally published on Wed February 25, 2015 10:38 am
Most of FairPoint Communications' unionized workers return to their jobs today after a strike that lasted more than four months.
Last weekend, they ratified a new contract with the company, but unlike past negotiations with FairPoint and its predecessors, the new pact does not represent an improvement over the expired agreement.
FairPoint Communications has agreed to hold public meetings around New Hampshire to discuss its service levels as part of a $13 million contract to provide Internet and telecommunications services for the state.
The Executive Council approved the contract Wednesday after putting it off last month due to service concerns. About 1,700 FairPoint workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont have been on strike since October over stalled contract negotiations, and the state has received increased complaints about services during the strike.
Members of Congress from Vermont and New Hampshire have called on the Federal Communications Commission to assess the ability of FairPoint Communications to operate emergency communications networks in both states following outages last year.
There was a six-hour outage of Vermont's 911 system in November and a four-hour outage of Portsmouth, New Hampshire 911 services in December.
FairPoint Communication and unions representing more than 1,700 striking workers are headed back to the bargaining table.
Top leaders from both negotiating teams are to gather in Washington, D.C., at the request of Allison Beck, acting director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The unions said the meeting is Sunday.
The last session convened by a federal mediator in Boston on Nov. 18 ended with no progress.
FairPoint Communications says the National Labor Relations Board has dismissed complaints accusing the company of bargaining in bad faith, disappointing news for striking workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said they were appealing. Pete McLaughlin, head of the union negotiating committee, said the unions remain "united and committed in our fight for fairness at FairPoint."
FairPoint Communications says a problem that occurred during routine maintenance led to a loss of high-speed Internet service for thousands of customers in Vermont and New Hampshire.
Spokesman Jeff Nevins says the hardware problem knocked out service for all of Vermont and part of New Hampshire on Thursday.
With about 1,800 FairPoint workers on strike in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, a management employee was performing the maintenance late Wednesday on equipment that routes Internet traffic. The first outages were reported early Thursday.
For nearly two months, more than 1,700 workers in northern New England have been off the job at Fairpoint Communications. The strike, they say, will continue until Fairpoint offers them a better contract. Fairpoint says the workers are the ones who need to compromise further.
Striking workers say they're not interested in an invitation by FairPoint to return to work in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The telecommunications company sent a letter last week to more than 1,700 striking workers explaining its position that the old contract was out of sync with the industry and telling workers that they're welcome to return under terms imposed by the company.
The first meeting of FairPoint and unions representing workers in northern New England since late August has failed to produce a breakthrough.
Both the company and unions representing more than 1,700 striking workers blamed each other for failing to offer a compromise.
The chairman of the unions' bargaining committee said FairPoint seems intent on running the company into the ground by failing to compromise. Likewise, the company accused the unions of making no proposals "and for that reason the impasse continues."
FairPoint Communications is asking the public for help to stem recent vandalism against its property, prompting striking workers to deny union members are responsible.
A spokeswoman for FairPoint says the company has investigated eight incidents of vandalism to "key components" of its infrastructure in the nine days since the strike started. The vandalism has been reported to police. The spokeswoman says the company investigated only one such incident in the five prior years.
With no meetings scheduled between Fairpoint and union heads, there appears to be no movement to resolve the strike that began last week.
Workers at the Manchester office have been picketing in front of the building around the clock since the strike began Friday. Roughly 250 Manchester employees are among the more than 1,700 workers on strike in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.
Kelly Torosian is an IBEW union member and Fairpoint employee who joined the picketers.
Unions representing FairPoint Communications workers in northern New England say preliminary vote counts suggest an overwhelming majority of members support authorizing a strike. Negotiations began in April on a contract that expires Aug. 2. Workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont recently held meetings to vote on whether to authorize a strike. Voting has finished in Maine and Vermont, but has been extended in New Hampshire due to storm damage.