Fairpoint Communications workers take to the information picket line Tuesday morning outside the company's Holt Avenue site to draw attention to prolonged contract talks. Bargaining resumes on Wednesday, according to Dave O'Connor, left, business agent for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2320 in Manchester. With him are, from left, Kim Burke, Melanie Labonte, Jim Lemay and Kelly Upham-Torosian.
UPDATED: FairPoint union workers picket in Manchester
MANCHESTER — With their contract expired and negotiators expected to return to the bargaining table on Wednesday, more than a dozen FairPoint Communications workers took to an informational picket line early Tuesday morning to educate the public about their plight.
For months, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2320 in Manchester and the Communication Workers of America Local 1400, have been trying to work out labor agreements that cover between 660 and 705 New Hampshire workers.
Dave O’Connor, IBEW local business agent, joined the picket line outside FairPoint’s 870 Holt Ave. office, off East Industrial Drive.
The workers’ contract expired on Aug. 2 , he said, and it covers a total of 2,000 -- FairPoint says 1,700 -- employees in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The issues, according to O’Connor, is that the telecommunications company wants to gut health care insurance, eliminate the pension plan, eliminate health care coverage for retirees and outsource work, meaning good-paying jobs could be leaving New Hampshire or "even the country," he said.
Angelynne Amores Beaudry, FairPoint’s corporate communications director, said at present, the parties remain far apart.
"Our main goal in these negotiations is to bring the contract into the norms of the 21st century and reflect the competitive reality of today’s telecom marketplace versus the monopoly environment of days gone by," she said in an e-mail.
She said without change, "the landline telephone company of the past cannot be the successful 21st century telecommunications company of the future."
FairPoint, she said, believes the current union benefit plans are out of sync with the mainstream.
She pointed out that unionized employees -- current and retired -- have 100 percent health-care coverage; unlimited paid sick days and company-paid retirement plan and FairPoint offers and pays a contribution to a second retirement plan.
FairPoint says its proposals do not reduce wages of existing employees and says the average wage and benefits per unionized worker is about $115,000, not including future costs of pensions and other post-retirement benefits.
The company is proposing workers pay between $500 to $600 in monthly premiums as well as out-of-pocket deductibles.
That change in healthcare, according to union officials, would cost a family $15,000 a year.
The company had a net loss of $153.3 million in 2012 and lost $93.45 million in 2013.
O’Connor said employees decided to walk an informational picket line to call the public’s attention to their situation.
"We are your neighbors. We are the people coaching children’s sports. We are the people who are CASA volunteers. We’re involved in Scouting," he said. "And it is our work we do at a very high level that maintains the FairPoint network."
All the employees want, O’Connor said, is a fair and equitable contract, so "that we can continue to supply excellent service."
On its FairnessAtFairPoint.com website, the union said the picketing is needed to send a strong message to management that "we are unified and ready to stand up and fight back against corporate greed."
The FairPoint picketing is taking place at 10 locations Tuesday, seven in Maine, two in New Hampshire and one in Vermont.
Two managers at the Holt Avenue location came out to greet the workers, who were all wearing red shirts with the union’s logo on it and carrying signs that said, "Fair Deal At FairPoint" 08-02-2014.
The managers declined comment, referring a reporter to FairPoint’s corporate communications office.
The unionized workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, although that does not mean it will happen.
If the unions choose to strike, Beaudry says FairPoint "as any prudent company would," has contingency plans in place for any potential interruption of sevices. "A FairPoint, we are prepared for any situation that could disrupt customer service whether it is this situation or weather-related," she said.