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FairPoint union workers set for strike vote - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

FairPoint union workers set for strike vote

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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. -

A possible strike is looming at FairPoint Communications. Nearly 2,000 workers at the phone, Internet and cable provider in Northern New England may vote to walk off the job.

Union members began trickling into headquarters in Colchester Friday Morning to start the voting process. About 330 union members work in Vermont. Their contract expires Aug. 2.

"Before every time we do our bargaining the membership has to basically get behind what the union is going to do and this is where the membership is going to give us their stamp of approval that if needed they are with us and giving us the right to call a strike," said Mike Spillane, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

The unions officially started negotiations April 25. Spillane says there have been about 20 sessions with the company so far, and there is no deal in sight. Negotiations will intensify over the next few weeks.

"The big sticking points are right now they want to take away our retiree health care. They also want to change our health care to a worse health care plan and the premiums would be extremely high. The next big one is they want to have the ability to allow contractors to come in here and do the work versus having our own employees," said Spillane.

"Our proposal addresses the need for flexibility when it comes to meeting communication requirements of today's customers and future customers. We have to be able to provide them what they need in today's evolving telecom environment," said Angelynne Amores Beaudry, FairPoint Communications.

Spillane says the unions are trying to compromise, they just sent a proposal for a different health care plan that would save FairPoint over $7 million.

FairPoint argues without change, the company cannot be successful in the future. And what they are offering is a benefits package similar to what non-union employees are getting.

The proposal also includes a freeze of the existing benefits plan. An employee can keep the accrued benefit, but would not accrue any further benefits after the freeze date.

"It's not like they can't afford it, it’s not that it is something they can't easily offer they are just choosing to take the money out of our heath care plan because they want to give money to investors as a dividend. This is not an example on where the company needs to save money or something needs to be done. We don't like the idea you want to take money from Vermonters just to give it to the Wall Street executives that are filthy rich anyway," Spillane.

Not so says FairPoint.

"Our proposal does not reduce the wages of existing employees in fact on average the annual wages and benefit costs for existing union represented employees in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire is $115,000 that does not include retirement benefits or post-retirement benefits," said Beaudry.

Next Friday the IBEW will hold a regular union meeting, and more voting on a potential strike will take place then.

FairPoint says in the event of a strike, the company will still provide service for its customers.

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