Lawmakers join CWA, IBEW call to stop FairPoint job cuts

FairPoint Communications

A group of Northern New England lawmakers have joined the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) in protesting FairPoint’s latest round of layoffs in its Northern New England region.

In November, FairPoint announced that it would lay off 110 employees in its northern New England region go from the company as it continues to see ongoing declines in its legacy TDM services business lines.

The job loss amounts vary across the three New England states it operates in today: 35 workers in Maine, 55 workers in New Hampshire and 20 workers in Vermont.

RELATED: FairPoint to ax 110 northern New England team employees, cites legacy TDM service declines

Lawmakers have asked FairPoint to rethink its job cuts, suggesting FairPoint’s decision to lay off so many workers was motivated by a desire to improve the company’s financial outlook by reducing labor costs in an attempt to attract a buyer.

Acquisition in toe

Consolidated Communications reached a $1.5 billion deal to acquire FairPoint only a few days after announcing the layoffs.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and U.S. Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) said in a letter to FairPoint CEO Paul Sunu in December that the layoffs could further hinder service quality in Northern New England.

“Just last month, FairPoint said it would lay off nearly 10 percent of its remaining workforce, presumably to make the company more attractive for a sale,” the Senators said in a joint letter. “However, such a move makes no sense for a company that continues to struggle with significant service quality issues.”

Sen. Sanders and Rep. Welch made a similar plea to Consolidated’s CEO Robert Udell, CEO of Consolidated, in a separate letter.

“We urge you to reverse FairPoint’s decision and send the clear message that Consolidated values its workers and the communities in which the company operates,” the Senators said in a letter.

The lawmakers concerns aren’t unfounded. In Maine, state regulators are weighing fines and penalties for 2014, 2015, and first quarter of 2016, for example.

During a series of conference calls with management and union representatives held during the Christmas holiday week, FairPoint began carrying out its layoffs.

Although nearly 100 workers will ultimately lose their jobs, many more have spent the last several weeks wondering if they were on the chopping block because the company initially announced it would eliminate more than 150 positions.

Consolidated responds

A key consideration in FairPoint’s job cuts is what, if any impact, will they have on Consolidated’s pending acquisition of the telco?

By acquiring FairPoint, Consolidated expects the combined markets to strengthen the telco’s growth opportunities, enhancing its scale with a fiber-rich network that will extend across 24 states. 

Michael Monahan, Intl. VP of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers asked Bob Udell, CEO of Consolidated in a letter “to reverse FairPoint’s lay off decision and send a positive message that Consolidated will value its workers” and to have their “representatives meet with the I.B.E.W. leaders that currently represent the I.B.E.W. members employed at FairPoint to discuss the utilization of the I.B.E.W. workforce to improve service and quality to your customers, enhance your network capabilities and ensure a smooth transition.” 

Bob Udell, CEO of Consolidated, said in response to Mohahan’s letter that it could not talk about FairPoint’s layoffs, the telco continues is on track with gaining necessary state and federal approvals.

“Consolidated Communications is currently working on the required approvals to close the FairPoint transaction by mid-2017,” Udell said  We are not able to comment on FairPoint’s workforce considerations at this time, nor is it legally allowable for us to intervene with FairPoint operations, as we are both running independent companies until our pending transaction closes.

Udell added that it will talk to the IBEW about the current agreement it has with FairPoint.

“Upon closing the transaction, Consolidated Communications fully intends to work with the union, in good faith, under the existing collective bargaining agreement between IBEW and FairPoint,” Udell said.