Nor’easter to test FairPoint’s replacement workers

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A forecast nor’easter could deliver the first major test for replacement workers hired by FairPoint Communications in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont with winds gusting to 30 mph and driving rain that could cause service disruptions as more than 1,700 workers remain on strike.

Wind-driven rain could lead to problems that’ll be magnified because FairPoint hasn’t invested heavily in maintaining the telephone network, striking workers said.

“Instead of investing in the system, they just fix things when they break,” said Jim Feeney, a striking outside repair technician and safety specialist who’s normally based in Bangor, Maine.

The rain was beginning on Tuesday and coastal Maine and New Hampshire was expected to see gusts up to 30 mph on Wednesday and Thursday, with rainfall totals in the range of 3 to 5 inches by the end of Friday, the National Weather Service said.

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The North Carolina-based company has a plan in place to minimize disruptions for telephone and high-speed Internet customers across the three states, officials have said.

Workers, who’ve accused the company of bargaining in bad faith, are angry over a contract imposed by the company after it declared a stalemate in negotiations.

The company is requiring workers to contribute to health insurance for the first time and freezing pensions for workers, replacing them with 401(k) plans going forward. Other provisions allow the company to hire contractors and to eliminate retiree health care benefits for current workers.

Striking workers, represented by Communications Workers of American and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have asked the National Labor Relations Board to order the company back to the negotiating table. A decision could come next month.

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