Striking FairPoint workers are voting this weekend on whether to ratify a deal for a new labor contract. If the exuberant reaction of members who voted in Portland on Friday is any indication, many of them are eager to declare victory and get back to work.

“I am so excited. It makes me want to cry,” said Peggy Collin of Falmouth, a customer service representative who was walking into the Fireside Inn to vote Friday morning.

Like many of the striking workers, Collin struggled financially during the walkout, which is entering its 19th week. She’s a single mom with a 20-year-old son at home, and prospective employers would not hire her because they expected she would return to work at FairPoint, Collin said.

Both she and her son eventually got jobs at an Irving gas station, but by then the financial damage had been done. Her house was foreclosed on and her car was repossessed.

Curtis Lawrence, a slice technician who works in Farmington, said the strike has been hard on people, but it was worth the sacrifice because workers had a chance to make a statement about issues that working people across the country face.

“It was worth it to have the struggle. We stood up and had the fight,” he said. “It’s one thing to give lip service, it’s another thing to do it.”

The tentative agreement, struck Thursday in Washington, D.C., through federal mediation, affects more than 1,700 union workers in FairPoint’s northern New England service area, including roughly 800 in Maine. The workers walked off the job in mid-October after months of fruitless contract negotiations.


The deal will keep their defined benefit pension plan intact, although there would be some changes in how it will be funded, according to union members who attended the meeting in Portland. In addition, while the agreement would allow FairPoint to use outside workers for short-term projects, the company would face restrictions on how long it could use contract labor. Also, workers for the first time would contribute toward health care benefits, but not as much as the company had wanted, the workers said. Under the previous contract, the company paid 100 percent of health care premiums for its unionized workforce.

Another contentious issue was the company’s desire to eliminate health care insurance for retirees. Under the new deal, if an existing worker retires before age 65, he or she would get a stipend of up to $800 a month for themselves and $400 for spouses for health insurance until age 65. After that, they are eligible for Medicare.

Union officials said they would not provide details on the tentative deal until voting is completed Sunday. Workers will return to work Wednesday if the agreement is ratified by a majority of union members.

FairPoint provides much of the landline phone service in northern New England. Its striking workers are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America.

Members of the IBEW Local 2327 and CWA Local 1400 learned details of the agreement Friday at a meeting at the Fireside Inn. The members of the two unions voted on separate ballots.

Friday’s meeting was not open to the media, but as it got underway a big cheer could be heard coming from the hotel meeting room.

Some shouted, “One day longer, one day stronger,” a popular chant during the strike.

Even before learning details of the agreement, union members coming into the hotel seemed jubilant. People hugged each other and expressed relief that the strike appeared to be over after 18 weeks without a paycheck.

The deal will maintain the pension plan, according to Scott Boudreau, a data technician who has worked for the company for 18 years.

He also said the health insurance is much better than the company originally offered.

“I am voting for it. It is a good deal,” he said. “It is far better than what they were trying to ram down our throats.”


The voting will continue over the weekend in Maine. There were meetings scheduled in Bangor at 4 p.m. Friday, in Presque Isle at 11 a.m. Saturday and in Augusta at 9 a.m. Sunday. Union members also will be voting in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Julie Dawkins, an administrative assistant in Portland and chief steward of the IBEW local, said workers came together and supported each other during the strike, which entered its 128th day Saturday and went a lot longer than she and most others thought it would.

The workers survived on the support they received from each other and from supporters around the country, Dawkins said.

“We are like a family now,” she said. “We are definitely stronger than they were.”

The ability to reach an agreement with FairPoint is due to solidarity displayed by union members during the strike, said Peter McLaughlin, an IBEW leader who chaired the combined union negotiating committee.

“The company was surprised by the way we didn’t cave,” he said.

Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400, which represents FairPoint workers in all three states, said he was pleased that the agreement will protect members’ jobs from being outsourced.

“We will keep good jobs in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont,” he said.

The agreement came about after federal mediators brought both sides together six weeks ago in Washington.

FairPoint’s “final offer,” which was imposed in late August, froze workers’ pensions and replaced them with a 401(k) plan, required workers to contribute to health care costs for the first time, and eliminated health care for current employees once they retire. It also allowed the company to hire outside workers.

Replacement workers have maintained the network since the strike began Oct. 17. Those workers will be on the job for a few more weeks, union members learned Friday.

During the strike, service outages and restoration delays brought criticism from consumers and regulators.

FairPoint, which says it’s the nation’s sixth-largest telecom company, provides telephone and high-speed Internet service in 17 states, but the lion’s share is in the three northern New England states, where the company has about 1 million lines.

The North Carolina-based company has struggled since buying Verizon’s landline holdings in the region for $2.3 billion in 2007. The company filed for bankruptcy and has continued to struggle financially since emerging from bankruptcy in 2011.

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