More than 1,700 union employees of FairPoint Communications will return to their jobs Wednesday after voting to end a contentious four-month strike.

The striking workers from two unions ratified tentative collective-bargaining agreements with FairPoint after three days of voting in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, union and company officials announced Sunday afternoon.

The 3½-year agreement took effect Sunday and will remain in effect through Aug. 4, 2018.

“This is great news for our members, their families and our communities,” said Peter McLaughlin, chairman of the union bargaining committee and business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327 in Maine. “Our members remained united and committed to this fight for more than four months, and today we have a fair deal that will bring them back to work and good service back to our communities.”

McLaughlin declined to provide the margin by which union members approved the agreements. A second union, the Communications Workers of America Local 1400, also agreed to terms.

“We are glad that the unions have ratified these agreements that provide excellent pay and benefits while allowing FairPoint to rationalize its employee costs to position the company to compete and serve the customers and communities of northern New England,” Paul Sunu, chief executive officer of FairPoint, said in a written statement Sunday night.

Sunu described the negotiations as “challenging,” but he said congratulations are in order for both sides for “forging what appears to be win-win agreements.”

McLaughlin said he did not know the total amount of concessions agreed to by the unions, but that the number fell between the $200 million the unions initially offered and the $700 million that FairPoint was seeking. He said no one in the unions had tabulated that figure yet.

“There are a lot of variables there,” McLaughlin said.

Asked to quantify the total amount of union concessions, FairPoint spokeswoman Angelynne Beaudry said Sunday she could not be more specific.

CONCESSIONS DISAPPOINT WORKERS

The new agreement includes a union-administered health insurance plan with benefits that will cost workers and the company less, union officials said. FairPoint also agreed to drop a proposed two-tier wage structure that would have paid new hires up to 20 percent less to do the same job as current workers, union officials said.

A tentative agreement to end the strike had been announced Thursday after weeks of negotiations before a federal mediator in Washington, D.C. The agreement affects about 800 FairPoint employees in Maine.

Final ratification votes took place Sunday in Augusta and in Vermont. Employee reactions were mixed.

“I’m not happy that we lost a lot of benefits, no, but I’ll be happy after four months just to have a paycheck again,” said Tim McLean, a 20-year cable splicer for FairPoint who lives in Thomaston. McLean cast his vote at the IBEW hall in north Augusta.

“I wish I could be more positive about it, but I don’t know,” said Alan Castonguay, a building mechanic from Livermore. “We lost a lot.”

CEO APOLOGIZES TO CUSTOMERS

FairPoint workers walked off the job Oct. 17. The company had declared a bargaining impasse on Aug. 28 and imposed the terms of its last contract offer. The union had no strike fund to pay workers while they picketed, but union leaders said most workers had prepared for the walkout by lining up part-time jobs.

McLaughlin said the agreements also give the unions protection from outsourced jobs. The company brought in replacement workers during the strike, but regulators in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont said customer complaints about service began to pile up.

The unions said complaints skyrocketed during the strike in all three states as landline customers experienced repair and installation delays and increased wait times to reach customer service.

“With this contract in hand, and the flexibility to manage our workforce more effectively, we are better positioned to provide the telecommunications services northern New England wants and needs,” said Sunu, the FairPoint CEO. “We know that our unionized workforce shares FairPoint’s core goal of providing great customer service and competitive prices for communications products and services. Achieving this goal allows our company to continue to invest in the region’s telecommunications infrastructure, provide good jobs and help grow the regional economy.”

Sunu apologized to customers for service disruptions and thanked the public for its patience.

He vowed to use returning union workers and contractors to immediately address any remaining service and installation issues.

Next month, FairPoint will provide a financial statement detailing the impact of the new agreement on fourth-quarter and full-year earnings for 2014, Sunu said.

SOME CONTRACT TERMS REVEALED

McLaughlin said negotiations in Washington were more fruitful than an earlier attempt with a federal mediator because the bargaining teams were much smaller. Instead of 15 people on each side, the meetings were limited to a combined 10 people.

“It was significantly easier to talk,” McLaughlin said.

In a news release Sunday, FairPoint listed highlights of the agreements with its unions. They include:

The 401(k) plan remains the same, with a dollar-for-dollar match up to 5 percent of eligible pay.

–Existing employees will receive a delayed ratification payment of $500, with general wage increases of 1 percent effective in August 2016 and 2 percent in August 2017.

New-hire wage increases will occur at 12-month intervals instead of the six-month intervals under the expired agreements.

Paid sick days will be limited to six per year versus unlimited paid sick days under the expired agreements.

Subcontracting rules are liberalized to permit subcontracting under various circumstances, including weather emergencies, spikes in service workloads and in situations where management determines that because of evolving technological needs, different skills are necessary.

Eligible employees who elect to retire in the first 30 months of the contract period will receive a monthly transitional health care insurance stipend of $800, plus an additional $400 for a retiree’s spouse. The stipend, which can be used only for medical insurance premiums, will be available through the age of 65.

“Based on the financial stability of this company, we think we made a fair agreement,” Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400, told The Associated Press.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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