Making some noise

Striking FairPoint workers rally in Market Square

Striking New England FairPoint workers marked 50 days without a new contract by holding a rally in Market Square in Portsmouth on Dec. 5. The workers, including members of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and supporters carried signs reading “All We Want For Christmas Is A Fair Deal” and marched around a giant inflatable “corporate pig” during the hour-long rally. U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter also stopped by the rally to meet with striking workers. Union officials say the new contracts proposed by the company will slash pay and benefits for workers and send local jobs to out-of-state contractors.

“We’re going to do everything we can to let the public know how unfair this company is, and we’re going to do everything it takes to get a fair contract,” said Don Trementozzi, president of the Communication Workers of America Local 1400.

He says workers’ contracts with FairPoint expired in August, though the strike didn’t begin until October. He says the telecommunications company is demanding $700 million in cuts in wages and benefits for employees and wants to outsource local jobs.

“That equals about $300,000 per person in concessions, and that is … unreasonable,” he said. “That’s not bargaining in good faith.”

According to Trementozzi, workers have offered to take $200 million in cuts, but the company has refused.

“We’re going to do everything we can to let the public know how unfair this company is, and we’re going to do everything it takes to get a fair contract.”

Negotiations, which began last April, have stalled. In a statement released on Nov. 19, FairPoint, which is based in North Carolina, said that the unions “have not offered any counterproposals that meaningfully address our core goals.” Regarding the allegations of outsourcing, the company said, “It is not the intent of our subcontracting proposal to cause the layoff of people. Rather, our proposal will give the company the ability … to contract services as necessary in situations such as the annual summer storm season or when facing other emergency conditions.”

Since the strike began, FairPoint has hired replacement workers from outside the state. Earlier this month, the state Public Utilities Commission reported that customer complaints about FairPoint’s service increased sharply since the strike began, going from 36 complaints in September to 164 in October and 217 in November.

Trementozzi said that workers have been taking their message all over New England, and previously held rallies in Burlington, Vt., Portland, Maine, and in Manchester. Being on strike during the holiday season has been especially difficult for workers, he says. Many have taken seasonal jobs in order to get by. “They’re doing whatever it takes to win this thing and take care of their families,” he said.

At the rally, John Colgan of Dover lead the crowd in chants of “No contract, no peace!” and “One day longer, one day stronger!” until his voice began to give out. “When you’ve got this many people, you need to make some noise,” he said. “We want to keep our jobs here. We want to keep the phones going. We’re all about the community because we are the community.”