FairPoint's unionized workers fear they'll find a mess when they return Wednesday from a four-month strike in which replacement workers handled call center duties and maintained the telecommunications network in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
There were widely documented customer service problems during the strike of more than 1,700 workers, and union members said they saw shoddy and dangerous work, some of which will need to be fixed.
"We have to win back the confidence of our customers," said Adam Frederickson, a FairPoint worker in Nashua, New Hampshire, who cited shoddy workmanship and unsafe practices during the strike.
North Carolina-based FairPoint disagreed that the problems were serious. "The FairPoint network performed exceptionally during the work stoppage and our well-trained and qualified contract workforce provided superb support of that network," said company spokeswoman Angelynne Amores Beaudry.
Barry Sine, an analyst who follows FairPoint for Drexel Hamilton, a New York-based brokerage, said he believes it'll take a month to a month-and-a-half for the company's workforce to restore service quality to prestrike levels.
There was animosity between unionized workers and replacement workers.
Replacement workers complained of harassment from union pickets that followed them to job sites across the three states. Workers contended the pickets were legal.
As a twist of fate, replacement workers will remain on the job for a couple weeks, overlapping with the return of FairPoint workers. But the two groups of workers won't be working side by side, and they won't be located under the same roof, officials said.
Workers went on strike in October after the company began imposing terms of its "final offer" that froze workers' pensions, imposed pay reductions for new employees and required workers to contribute to health care costs for the first time. It also eliminated health insurance for new retirees and allowed the company to hire outside workers.
Under the new contract, current employees keep their defined benefit pension plan but contributions will be reduced; workers will contribute to health care costs under a union health plan; and stipends will be offered to new retirees in lieu of health insurance. The two-tier pay scale was eliminated, and restrictions were placed on hiring contract workers.
Workers represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communications Workers of America ratified the agreement in three days of voting that ended Sunday.
Peter Keefe, a FairPoint worker based in Lewiston, said he's looking forward to getting back to work. But he shares concerns about mopping up.
"I think we're going to be busy, let's put it that way. We're going to have a lot of messes to clean up," Keefe said Tuesday. "We're just looking forward to getting out there and repairing some of the damage that was done while we were gone."