- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 18, 2014

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - The first meeting between FairPoint Communications and union representatives in nearly three months took an hour Tuesday and made no progress toward ending an impasse that led to a strike in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Both the company and unions representing more than 1,700 striking workers blamed each other for failing to offer a compromise during the brief session convened by a federal mediator in Boston.

Describing the company as “stubborn,” the chairman of the unions’ bargaining committee said FairPoint seems intent on running the company into the ground by failing to end the stalemate.

“It’s not like we’re asking for huge raises, or pension increases. We understand we’re going to have to do something. We just need someone to meet us halfway on this, find some common ground,” said Peter McLaughlin, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327 in Maine.

The company fired back, saying the union didn’t bring anything to the table, either.

“The unions made no proposal, and for that reason the impasse continues. We have told the mediators that when the unions are ready to make meaningful proposals, we will be prepared to meet with them,” said FairPoint spokeswoman Angelynne Amores Beaudry.

The company, which contends the old contract was out of sync with industry norms, imposed its final contract offer in late August when it declared an impasse. Workers went on strike in October.

The contract froze the old pension plan and replaced it with 401(k) plans going forward. The company also required workers to contribute to health care costs for the first time. Other provisions allowed the company to hire contractors and eliminated retiree health care benefits for current workers.

Accusing the company of failing to bargain in good faith, the IBEW and Communications Workers of America have asked the National Labor Relations Board to order the company back to the negotiating table. The board could rule this month, but it’s possible that there will be no ruling until January, McLaughlin said.

In the meantime, the IBEW sought to increase public pressure on FairPoint by releasing four new television ads featuring employees and retirees demanding a “fair deal.”

The ads feature a worker who’s trying to figure out how to pay for his daughter’s heart surgery after their insurance was canceled by FairPoint during the strike. Another features a father who’s caring for three children after his wife died. “All we’re looking to do is to get back to work,” Marc Jutras said.

The company has brought in outside workers to minimize customer disruptions but the company acknowledged it’s dealing with a backlog of service requests and asked customers two weeks ago for patience.

The company is seeking about $700 million in contract concessions, officials have said. Union negotiators say they’ve agreed to cuts of about $218 million.

McLaughlin said workers aren’t going to give up.

“Everybody is prepared for an extended strike. The alternative is to accept what they gave, and that’s not much of an alternative for the members and employees,” he said.

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