Solidarity Fund helps strikers resist FairPoint’s race to the bottom

Workers at FairPoint Communications have been on strike for more than 100 days to resist efforts by FairPoint to convert their middle-class jobs into low-wage, temporary work.

More than 150 organizations and a countless number of individuals have contributed more than $250,000 to a Solidarity Fund that helps the workers meet financial obligations during the strike.

Financial support from the Solidarity Fund has made it possible for the striking workers to endure the rigors of a long strike during a cold winter, but the fund is starting to run low.

The FairPoint strike began in October.

The company, which provides wireline and other telecommunications services in Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont, was under pressure from its hedge fund investors to lower labor costs.

That pressure caused FairPoint to demand drastic concessions from its workers during negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Those concessions included raising workers’ health care costs, the elimination of the workers’ pension, and a two tiered wage system that would start new hire pay at near poverty levels.

The company also demanded that it be allowed to outsource any and all work without any job security restrictions.

When FairPoint workers, who belong to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), rejected the company’s concession demands, FairPoint declared an impasse, walked away from the bargaining table, and imposed the concessions on its workers.

After giving the company an opportunity to reconsider its rash act, which the company rejected, the workers went on strike to protect their jobs.

Julie Dawson, an IBEW Local 2327 member, says that internal solidarity among the strikers is one reason why they’ve been able to sustain their fight for a fair contract.

“We are such a family and we are so supportive of each other (that the strike) doesn’t feel like it’s been going on that long,” said Dawkins.

Striking workers also say that the support that they’ve received from others outside their union has helped them resist FairPoint’s race to the bottom.

One of the main ways that people have shown their solidarity is by contributing to the workers Solidarity Fund.

The Solidarity fund helped FairPoint worker Mike Pallozzi of Windham, Massachusetts meet some unexpected expenses during the strike.

During a sub-zero cold snap, Pallozzi’s home heater ran out of heating oil, which caused it to shut down. The shutdown caused a pipe in his home to rupture. The Solidarity Fund paid for more heating oil and for repairs to Pallozzi’s pipes.

“If it weren’t for the Solidarity Fund, I couldn’t have filled up my oil tank and paid for the repairs,” said Pallozzi. “The incredible support that we’ve received from all over the country is helping to keep me and  my co-workers going. We are grateful for the solidarity.”

In addition to money, supporters have been showing their solidarity by attending rallies and demonstrations and walking the picket lines with the strikers.

“Picketing continues across (Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts) and we encourage you to join us on the line,” reads a message on the Solidarity Fund’s GoFundMe page. “We always appreciate warm beverages or snacks, but more than anything we welcome your fellowship.”

One notable group of supporters came from Memphis, Tennessee. They belong to the Bakery Workers Union Local 252G.

In August, they returned to work with their contract intact after enduring a nine-month lockout by their employer Kellogg’s, which tried to force concessions on its workers similar to those that FairPoint is seeking.

Kellogg’s workers told FairPoint workers that one key to their success was the support that they received from other labor and community groups.

After the FairPoint strike began, bargaining ceased, but eventually a federal mediator was brought in to help get negotiations  restarted.

The two sides resumed negotiations on January 4. The mediator insisted that both sides refrain from making public statements about the negotiations, so for now, there’s little information available about the progress of the talks.

But on January 31, the workers’ negotiating team sent this message to the strikers:

The gag order imposed by the mediator remains in place. Therefore, we will not comment on the negotiations other than to echo the mediator’s statement from last week that we continue to make progress.

However, we wanted to let you know that we are truly inspired by the unity and strength you continue to demonstrate on the picket lines every day. Your expressions of support for each other and for the bargaining team mean the world to us and really have kept us going throughout this process.

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