Hundreds of unionized FairPoint Communications Inc. workers in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire staged “informational protests” Tuesday to educate customers about the negative impact of company plans to boost outsourcing, union representatives said.
In Maine, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers System Council T9 and Communications Workers of America Local 1400 handed out leaflets in Portland, Bangor and Lewiston that describe FairPoint’s plans to replace union workers with out-of-state contractors.
Meanwhile, IBEW Bargaining Committee Chairman Pete McLaughlin said negotiations over new collective bargaining agreements are scheduled to resume Wednesday. Two of the company’s collective bargaining agreements, which cover the majority of employees in northern New England, expired Aug. 2.
As long as the negotiations continue, the workers will not strike, said McLaughlin, who is also business manager for IBEW Local 2327 in Augusta.
But that could change, he said.
“We could strike at any time, or the company could walk us out,” McLaughlin said. “The situation is fluid, I guess you could say.”
He described Tuesday’s demonstrations as successful, with 90 to 95 percent of all union workers in attendance.
“We had huge turnouts all over the state,” McLaughlin said.
He added that the demonstrators received overwhelming support from the public.
Union workers are unhappy with proposed changes to FairPoint’s health and retirement benefits, as well as changes aimed at allowing greater use of nonunion workers.
The company, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, has said that its employee benefits are more costly than those of other telecommunications companies, and that they need to be brought in line with industry norms.
FairPoint, which bought Verizon’s landline telephone operations for $2.4 billion in 2007, has struggled to become profitable since emerging from bankruptcy in 2011.
The company, Maine’s leading provider of wired telephone service, reported a net loss of $22.7 million in the second quarter and a $5.7 million decline in revenue compared with the same period a year earlier.
Company officials said FairPoint continued to lose telephone customers, who comprise the vast majority of its business, in the second quarter, although revenue from Internet services increased.
The current round of negotiations is scheduled to continue through Thursday. A FairPoint spokesperson said last week that the two sides remain far apart, and that the company is considering its options.