The Electrical Worker online
January 2015

FairPoint Workers Take On Corporate Greed
index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to

Despite falling snow and freezing temperatures, nearly 2,000 FairPoint Communications employees throughout Northern New England stayed strong as their strike entered its third month late last year.

As of press time, they still have not returned to work.

The workers went on strike Oct. 17, citing management's unwillingness to bargain in good faith after company representatives walked away from contract negotiations.

Bargaining, which began last April, was stonewalled by management, which rejected every compromise offered by union negotiations.

Renewed efforts to resurrect bargaining failed Nov. 18.

"We did not want to take this step," said Augusta, Maine, Local 2327 Business Manager Peter McLaughlin. "We've offered significant concessions to this company that would save them hundreds of millions of dollars. But they absolutely refuse to compromise on any significant issue."

North Carolina-based FairPoint purchased landlines servicing customers in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine from Verizon in 2008.

Critics of the deal, including members of the IBEW and Communications Workers of America, said FairPoint lacked the resources and experience to handle a vast telecommunications infrastructure.

Sadly, the critics proved to be right. After a year of botched service, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2011, but instead of thanking the workers who helped the company throughout the process, FairPoint chief executive Paul Sunu launched an aggressive campaign to chip away at benefits and rights won by FairPoint workers.

Outsourcing remained the most contentious issue, with Sunu seeking the right to send skilled New England jobs to low-paid, out-of-state contractors.

"The big issue for me is outsourcing," said Montpelier, Vt., Local 2326 member Heather Allard. "The company wants to send our jobs out of state and even out of country. I'm a born and bred Vermonter, and I want those to be here for me and my family."

Sunu also sought to gut workers' pensions and end retiree health care. On Oct. 31, FairPoint canceled health benefits for striking workers.

Solidarity in Action

A week before Thanksgiving, IBEW President Edwin D. Hill traveled to New England to show solidarity with striking IBEW and CWA members

In Montpelier, President Hill and Second District Vice President Frank Carroll addressed more than 200 FairPoint workers and allies who gathered on the snow-covered grounds of the Vermont state House Nov. 21, calling on the telecommunications company to return to the bargaining table.

"We're determined to get a fair contract," Hill said. "And we're ready to fight one day longer to get a fair deal."

Representatives from the three IBEW locals, Manchester, N.H., Local 2320, Local 2326, and Local 2327, spoke, as did leaders of the Communications Workers of America.

Workers also got support from elected officials, including Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin. "You've worked hard for us," he said. "Now it's time for FairPoint to get back to the table. I stand with you."

Members of the working Vermonters caucus in the state house also spoke, including Rep. Susan Hatch Davis.

"We stand with the union workers," she said. "We need a fair deal for all working people."

Local 2326's Derek Blankenship, a 16-year member, said the company wants to destroy all the rights and benefits won by employees.

Vermont employee Andrew Pond says morale among strikers remains high, even with rapidly falling temperatures. He also says they are getting strong support from the community.

"Even college students are honking at us, cheering us on when we're picketing," he said.

"They get that the middle class is under attack, and this is the front lines of the fight."

At the same time, in Boston, pro-worker activists marched in front of the offices of Angelo, Gordon and Co., the Wall Street hedge fund that owns the biggest stake in FairPoint.

The fund holds nearly 20 percent of the company's stock, and has a director on the board.

The next day, Hill traveled to Manchester, where he told more than 100 picketers: "You're carrying the water for a lot of working men and women in this country. The working people of this country are suffering."

Marching with FairPoint strikers was high school student Caitlin Lowry, who was there to support her mom, Local 2320 member Karin Lowry.

"I'm here because the company wants to take away my mom's job," she said.

During Hill's visit to Portland, Local 2327 member Kimberly Talbot, an 18-year FairPoint veteran, helped lead the crowd in chants at a picket line on the outskirts of the city.

Building Support

Strikers have received strong community support, from other labor unions and community organizations to numerous elected officials.

"The work of FairPoint Communications employees is vital to New Hampshire's economy, public safety and consumers," said New Hampshire Sen. Jean Shaheen in a statement. "I encourage both parties to resume good-faith negotiations and reach an agreement that protects good-paying jobs and consumers in New Hampshire."

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders also stated his support, criticizing FairPoint for "putting the interests of the multi-billion-dollar hedge funds ahead of its workers and customers."

To help FairPoint workers through the holiday season, the Eastern Maine Labor Council's Solidarity Harvest campaign donated Thanksgiving baskets to families in need. IBEW and CWA members volunteered to assemble the baskets.

The IBEW also began running four television ads in the Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine media markets featuring FairPoint workers calling on the company to return to the bargaining table.

In one ad, a 15-year employee Marc Jutras describes the struggles his family has faced since the strike began last month.

"My wife passed away in 2013," says the father of three in the spot. "It was devastating to all of us. It's daunting to not know where that next paycheck is coming from."

Jutras says FairPoint's refusal to bargain fairly constitutes an attack on the middle class. "We've made concessions," he says. "We've brought them back from bankruptcy. All we're looking to do is to get back to work."

The ads can be seen at Go to for the latest updates.


International President Ed Hill and Second District Vice President Frank Carroll joined FairPoint strikers on the picket line in Portland, Maine, in November. Augusta Local 2327 President Diane Winton, left, joined Hill, Local 2327 Business Manager Peter McLaughlin, Local 2327 Assistant Business Manager Jenn Nappi and Carroll.


Augusta, Maine, Local 2327 member Kimberly Talbot says FairPoint's actions target the entire middle class.


FairPoint workers rally at the Vermont State House in Montpelier Nov. 20.