Budget CutsFairPoint Communications and the Communications Workers of America are taking their dispute over contract negotiations to the public.

FairPoint today ran an open letter signed by three of its New England executives in local papers in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine defending its recent decision to cease new contributions to employee pension plans “among other things.” According to the company, non-union employees are not eligible for pension plans, relying instead on a 401K plan through which the company matches employee contributions. A similar 401K plan will be available to union employees moving forward, FairPoint said.

The company said it was allowed to make the changes because a previous contract with union employees expired in August and the company has not been able to reach a new agreement with the CWA or with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. In September CWA and IBEW employees voted in favor of a strike against FairPoint.

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“The implemented proposals reflect FairPoint’s commitment to our knowledgeable and skilled employees, as we provide good paying jobs with excellent benefits,” FairPoint said in today’s letter. “These changes will also enhance FairPoint’s ability to price products competitively and are critical to our ability to meet the needs of the customers, communities and economies of northern New England.”

FairPoint Labor Dispute
The CWA responded with letters to the editor arguing that FairPoint wants to pay some new workers a wage that’s below the poverty level for a family of four.

“FairPoint, a North Carolina-based company largely owned by Wall Street hedge funds, has tried to demonize its New England workers by pointing out the good wages that many of us make,” wrote the CWA. “But those good wages have been earned after years of service. The starting salary for a typical telephone technician in northern New England is roughly $560 a week.”

FairPoint in its letter claimed that the average individual union employee’s paycheck totaled $82,500 in 2013, which it said was nearly twice the median personal income in the region.

The CWA said it offered $200 million in cost savings to FairPoint in its contract proposals but the company wanted more than $700 million in “savage” cuts “without making a single substantive compromise,” instead walking away in August after several months of negotiations.

The IBEW did not immediately respond to a request from Telecompetitor for comment.

With the telecom market becoming increasingly competitive, labor disputes are becoming quite common, with at least three companies — Verizon, AT&T and Frontier – having undergone some serious battles within the last three years.

FairPoint inherited contracts with the CWA and IBEW when it bought Verizon lines in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

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