Two hundred FairPoint Communications workers promised on Friday to remain on strike until company officials return to the bargaining table, even as the 10-week-old strike begins to take a personal and financial toll on the workers and their families.
"The fight is not just for us, it's for our kids and all of our members," said Liz Brown, who's worked for the telecommunications company for 18 years.
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FairPoint's 1,700 workers across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont began striking in October after contract negotiations that began in April reached an impasse.
Officials for FairPoint Communications Inc., which is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, presented a contract that would require employees to contribute to their health care for the first time, eliminate retiree health care benefits for current employees and replace workers' pension plans with 401(k) plans, among other things. Some employees were outraged.
"We went in thinking we were going to get a haircut, but they don't want to give us a haircut — they want to cut off the head," said Gary Plourde, an employee for 28 years.
Unions representing the workers say they've given $200 million in concessions, but FairPoint officials say it's the unions that aren't negotiating in good faith.
"We have stated to the unions that we remain willing to consider and constructively respond to any serious counterproposal that meaningfully addresses the company's core issues in this negotiation," said Angelynne Beaudry, director of corporate communications for FairPoint. "To date, we have not received any such proposals."
Gov. Maggie Hassan met with FairPoint officials on Tuesday at the Statehouse and urged them to work in good faith with their employees, her spokesman said.
Workers at Friday's rally showed no signs of giving up soon. Many tied their messages for a fair contract to the holiday season; one worker dressed as Santa held a sign that read "All Santa Claus wants for Christmas is a fair deal from FairPoint."
"We have friends, we have support, and we're right," said Glenn Brackett, business manager of the IBEW Local 2320, one of the union's representing FairPoint.
Brown, of Raymond, said she found a seasonal job to make up for wages lost during the strike, but that job ends Sunday. She won't be buying Christmas presents this year. Her husband's salary covers their mortgage, but paying bills is tough.
"It's a slap in the face," she said. "It's a horrible, horrible disgrace to be a part of corporate greed."