PORTLAND (AP) — FairPoint and its two unions have been meeting for a week but a strict gag order has left more than 1,700 workers in the dark about any possible progress toward ending the strike.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service imposed the order when the parties returned to the table last weekend for the first time in more than a month.

For the most part, workers seem to be OK with the dearth of news, said Stephanie Hill, a picket captain from Windham.

“No news is good news,” she said. “As long as we’re not hearing anything that means both sides are still at the table. That’s the general consensus.”

FairPoint workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont went on strike in October, two days after the company imposed its “final offer” following an impasse.

The North Carolina-based company froze the old pension plan and replaced it with 401(k) plans. It also required workers to contribute to health costs for the first time, eliminated retiree health care benefits and allowed itself to hire contractors. Wages for current workers are left intact, but there would be a new wage scale for new employees.


FairPoint contends the changes are necessary to keep it competitive and to bring workers’ benefits in line with other large telecommunication companies.

Workers, who accused the company of bad-faith bargaining, said they knew that they’d have to give up benefits but said the company is pushing for too much.

Talks that began in April continued until the company declared an impasse in late August. The company said there had been no progress on its core issues.

Pickets have continued despite the extreme cold this past week.

“There’s never a shortage of things to gripe about. And the cold is one of them,” said Jeff Dorn, a union steward at the Kennebunk garage. Workers remain hopeful about a resolution, but they’re continuing to keep pressure on the company, he said.

The latest talks began Sunday in Washington, D.C., thanks to the intervention of Allison Beck, acting director of the FMCS. The union and company were told that there would be no further comment regarding the status or substance of negotiations until talks end.

The National Labor Relations Board recently rejected a claim by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communication Workers of America that FairPoint had bargained in bad faith. An appeal is pending, but that process could take months.

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. It has continued to struggle since emerging from bankruptcy in 2011.

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