PORTLAND

Negotiators for FairPoint Communications and two unions on strike for more than four months have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that would return the employees to work Feb. 25.

The unions and company issued a joint statement Thursday after weeks of working with a federal mediator to resolve the contract dispute that prompted the strike started Oct. 17, 2014. It was the nation’s longest strike started in 2014.

The strike has involved about 800 FairPoint employees in Maine represented by local chapters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communications Workers of America. Another 900 FairPoint employees have been on strike in New Hampshire and Vermont.

The deal requires approval in union votes scheduled for this weekend. The first votes will take place at 9 a.m. today, including in Bangor and Portland. The final votes are set for 9 a. m. Sunday in Augusta and Burlington, Vermont.

In the joint statement from the unions and Fair- Point, both parties said that the agreements “will provide employees with wages and benefits that are among the best in northern New England.”

“At the same time,” the statement continues, “the agreements permit the company to achieve a much more competitive position in the marketplace.”

Through the negotiations, the company sought to reduce employees’ health care benefits, saying they were out of line with those for similar jobs in the telecommunications industry and with FairPoint management plans.

FairPoint also sought to gain more latitude in hiring outside contractors. The company said that it needed the ability to hire those contractors in part to keep up with changing technologies in the industry.

Investors responded positively to the news Thursday afternoon, with shares of FairPoint (NASDAQ: FRP) rising about 4 percent, to $16.73, within two hours of the announcement made at 2:30 p.m.

The company has struggled during the strike to keep up with service demands, particularly for its landlines in Maine. It will report earnings for the period covering the strike in March.

John Barron, a FairPoint customer without DSL Internet service since October, said in a telephone interview Thursday that the end of the strike is a “good thing,” although he said the replacement telephone technicians that came to his home to address static on his landline during the strike were “ very conscientious and knowledgeable and thorough.”

He said he hopes the end of the strike means the Internet connection at his home on Griffin Road in Bangor will finally be repaired.

From service quality reports provided to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, the company showed a sharp increase in the number of landline telephone service calls that were not addressed within 24 hours. The state does not regulate broadband Internet service or keep statistics on Internet service quality.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which began mediation last month, said in a news release that all parties agreed to withhold further comment on the terms of the proposed contract until it is ratified by votes of the unions’ members.

The mediation service praised the work of negotiators on both sides and of federal mediators, who began working with both parties Jan. 4.

“ Negotiators for both sides faced difficult issues that divided them, and through their perseverance and commitment to the process, they were able to bridge the gaps and resolve their longstanding dispute,” Allison Beck, acting director of the federal mediation service, said in the news release.

The unions filed multiple complaints to the National Labor Relations Board during the strike, which it lost at the regional level and had appealed to the national level.

FOR MORE, see Bangor Daily News at www.bangordailynews.com



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