PORTLAND (AP) — The National Labor Relations Board has dismissed complaints by two unions who accused FairPoint Communications of bargaining in bad faith, delivering a blow to striking workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, officials said Tuesday.
The Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said they were appealing the decision and that striking workers will continue to work to force the telecommunications company back to the bargaining table.
“We’re dug in. We’ve prepared ourselves for a long battle,” said Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
More than 1,700 FairPoint workers went on strike in October after the company declared an impasse and imposed terms of its “final offer.”
The company froze the current pension and replaced it with 401(k) plans going forward. The final offer also requires workers to contribute to health costs, allows the company to hire contractors and eliminates retiree health care benefits for current workers.
FairPoint issued a statement Tuesday saying the labor board’s dismissal of the union complaints proves there’s “no basis to the allegations that FairPoint bargained in bad faith or that its implementation of its final contract proposals was unlawful.”
The decision by the labor board’s regional office isn’t the end of the road, he said. The unions plan to appeal to the full board in Washington, D.C., but the process could take months.
The unions said they weren’t backing down in their insistence for the company to return to the table.
“There should be some spirit of compromise,” said Trementozzi.
Trementozzi contends the company is digging itself into a hole with growing customer service complaints and customers leaving for competing phone and Internet providers. “Their contingency plan is failing. We know it, they know it, their shareholders know it, and our customers know it,” he added.
Pressure on FairPoint isn’t coming just from striking workers.
Some members of Congress in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire have urged the two sides to come together. And New Hampshire delayed action last week on a $13 million state contract for Internet and telephone service because of the strike.
North Carolina-based FairPoint contends the old contract was too rich in an era of increasing competition, and that it needed to bring the workers’ contracts into sync with the industry.
The company provides telephone and high-speed Internet in more than a dozen states, but the lion’s share of its business is in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, where it has about 1 million lines.
FairPoint bought Verizon’s landline holdings in northern New England for $2.3 billion in 2007 and filed for bankruptcy 18 months later after losing customers because of operational and integration problems. FairPoint has continued to struggle since emerging from bankruptcy in 2011.