Strikers: FairPoint turning middle-class jobs into low-wage jobs

Workers at FairPoint Communications on December 19 marked the tenth week of their strike with a spirited rally in Concord, New Hampshire.

“All I want for Christmas is a fair contract,” read many of the signs carried by workers and their supporters at the Concord rally.

FairPoint, a North Carolina-based company, provides landline and broadband services in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

About 1,700 FairPoint workers who belong to the International Brotherhood of Electricians (IBEW) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) went on strike after the company declared that negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement were at an impasse and unilaterally imposed its bargaining proposals.

During the negotiations, the company was seeking $700 million worth of concessions from its union workers.

“The company began these talks demanding $700 million in crippling cuts, and today they’re still making the same demand,” said Peter McLaughlin, chair of System Council T-9 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “They’re not trying to find common ground with us, they’re trying to turn good middle-class jobs into low-wage jobs with bare-bones benefits.”

Under the terms imposed by FairPoint, pay for most new hires is reduced by 20 percent, pensions were frozen, company contributions to the pension were halted, the pension plan was replaced by a 401(k) savings plan, workers pay more for health care, and there are no restrictions on outsourcing work.

The unions contend that bargaining was not at an impasse when the company imposed its proposals and have filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the company.

Union leaders have suggested that FairPoint imposed its proposals because of pressure from hedge funds that own stock in the company.

One such hedge fund, Maglan Capital, addressed a 2013 letter to FairPoint board members castigating the board for not “substantially improving shareholder value.”

Among other things, the letter criticized the company for making a pension contribution of $14.6 million to its union workers’ pension fund implying that the money would have been better spent on increased dividends for shareholders.

A 2013 article in Forbes suggests that Maglan is interested in improving shareholder value at the expense of workers’ pension and benefits in order to make the sale of FairPoint more attractive.

FairPoint’s steep cuts to workers’ pay and benefits have generated substantial community support for the strikers even though the strike has caused phone service to deteriorate.

So far more than $200,000 has been donated to FairPoint workers relief fund. The Vermont National Association of Educators donated $12,000 to the fund.

IBEW and CWA have set up an IBEW-CWA Solidarity Fund at gofundme so that supporters can make donations over the internet.

Local musicians in Portland, Maine are playing at “Funk Fest for FairPoint Strikers” benefit concert on December 22. Those playing include Model Airplane, Adam Waxman and Joe Farrell, and special guest Kenya Hall.

Strikers have also been receiving support from individuals and FairPoint customers, some of whom have walked the picket line with them.

In a letter to the Portland Free Press, Falmouth, Maine resident Gerald Davis explained why he is supporting the strikers.

“My sympathy is with the strikers,” wrote Davis. Earlier in the letter, he explained why. “It has become clear that these strikers are fighting for middle-class status, which is under attack. . . throughout the country.”

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