About 1,700 Fairpoint Communications workers represented by the Northern New England chapters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Communications Workers of America (CWA) went on strike after negotiations with the carrier broke down. The job action affected company locations in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont after talks in Boston broke down.
The unions maintain that they offered "significant concessions" to North Carolina-based Fairpoint and that negotiations broke down because the company was not interested in what was on the table, Peter McLaughlin, business manager of IBEW local 2327, told Fox Business.
A company spokeswoman disputed that claim, saying that the company would listen if the union provided a proposal that "meaningfully addresses the core issues."
Workers struck two days after Fairpoint froze workers' pensions in favor of 401(k) plans going forward and imposed a contract that requires workers to contribute to health care costs; other provisions would allow the company to hire contractors and eliminate retiree health care benefits.
Fairpoint "backed us into a corner," Jenn Nappi, assistant business manager of Local 2327, told Fox News. "The company is not willing to negotiate on anything, so we felt we've exhausted all of our options and this company has no interest in reaching an agreement. We have no choice but to strike."
Fairpoint spokeswoman Angelynne Amores Beaudry disputed that assertion.
"While we have implemented our final proposals, we have always remained willing to negotiate and have committed to evaluate and respond to any counterproposal from the unions that meaningfully addresses the core issues of these negotiations. So far we have not received any such counterproposals."
The rancor between the two sides made a strike inevitable, McLaughlin added.
"The membership is ready and so are we. It's almost a relief now that we have pulled the trigger. Time to go," he told the Bangor (Maine) Daily News. "We'll continue to reach out to bargain and we're certainly willing to go to the table at any time. But you know we're not going to go begging."
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, of Maine, placed the blame on Fairpoint.
"This company made an investment they couldn't afford and now they are trying to take it out on the thousands of highly skilled men and women who work for them," she said, while urging the two sides to return to the negotiating table.
Fairpoint said it had hired replacement workers in the event of a strike so services should continue uninterrupted.
FairPoint, northern New England unions come to impasse over contract proposals
FairPoint, labor unions deadlocked in contract negotiations
FairPoint brings 1 Gbps Ethernet to 32 New England markets