FairPoint, unions continue negotiations but union official says there's little progress

Associated Press

FairPoint Communications and two unions representing more than 1,700 workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are continuing negotiations but report little progress nearly two weeks after the contract expired.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communications Workers of America put forth a new proposal Thursday addressing key issues such as pensions, health care and contract workers, but company officials left the negotiations in Portland without any comment 10 minutes later, said Mike Spillane from IBEW Local 2326 in Vermont.

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Spillane said the unions have made concessions, but he said it hasn't translated to progress.

"We're running out of rope here. I think that very soon, if they don't change their ways, there's going to be nothing left," Spillane said Thursday.

There was no immediate response from FairPoint.

The North Carolina-based telecommunications company has struggled since buying Verizon's landline telephone operations in northern New England seven years ago, even after emerging from bankruptcy in 2011.

It contends its benefits are out of sync with industry norms. The company proposed freezing the union workers' existing defined benefit pension plan and converting the contributions into an existing 401(k) program. It also wants to make changes to the health care plan and flexibility to hire more contract workers.

Union workers, who are unhappy with those proposed changes, authorized a strike. For now, workers are continuing to work terms of the contract that expired Aug. 3 while negotiations continue.