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FairPoint, two unions in talks to avert strike

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 28. 2014 7:53PM

MANCHESTER — Negotiators for FairPoint Communications Inc. and two unions plan to meet in Nashua on Tuesday in an effort to head off a possible strike Saturday night in a dispute over outsourcing, pensions and health care.

Both the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America say members in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine overwhelmingly approved strike authorization votes, which doesn’t mean workers automatically will walk off their jobs late Saturday if a new contract isn’t reached.

About 92 percent of IBEW workers in New Hampshire approved the strike authorization vote with the last workers voting Monday, according to Glenn Brackett, business manager for IBEW Local 2320 in Manchester, which represents all of New Hampshire.

Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400, headquartered in Portsmouth, didn’t release specific vote totals or percentages Monday, saying it was “an absolutely solid strike authorization vote in CWA” in the three New England states.FairPoint Communications Director Angelynne Amores Beaudry said the company continues to bargain in good faith and is prepared for a possible strike.

“We do have our plans in place and are ready to anticipate any situation that would interrupt customer service,” she said. “Whether it is this (possible strike) or is storm-related, we will be prepared to respond to our customers as best as possible.”

The two sides gave slightly different counts for the New Hampshire unionized workforce: The company lists 660 while the two unions say it totals about 705. FairPoint declined to say how many customers it serves in the Granite State.

Trementozzi said proposed contract changes would allow the company to get others to do union work.

“They could lay off almost at will and do the work somewhere else even though they say it’s not their intent,” he said.

“It’s their way or the highway,” Trementozzi said of negotiations to date.

Beaudry said the company would like to use some specialists and experts, including outside vendors, for some work that would serve as “cost-effective alternatives and help raise necessary revenues.”

“If they want to send the call center work to Thailand,” Brackett said, “I’m sure they can find someone willing to do it for a dollar a day.”

Trementozzi said employees currently enjoy 100 percent health-care coverage. The company, he said, has proposed $500 to $600 in monthly premiums as well as out-of pocket, deductible costs.

“You’re looking at $15,000 (a year),” he said. “A family could be devastated out-of-pocket before the plan kicks in.”

The unions said their proposed changes that would save the company $7 million a year on health care.Brackett said the company wants to freeze pensions for current workers and pay new workers less than current ones to do the same jobs.Beaudry declined to discuss specific proposals.

For all of 2013, FairPoint reported a net loss of $93.45 million, factoring in a gain of $10 million for discounted operations. Its net loss for 2012 was $153.3 million.

Beaudry said union concessions are needed. “Without changes, the landline telephone company of the past cannot be a successful 21st century telecom company of the future,” she said.

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