- Associated Press - Friday, October 2, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - The chairwoman of Maine’s Unemployment Insurance Commission has reversed a decision to award unemployment benefits to workers who went on strike against FairPoint Communications, drawing an angry response from two unions on Friday.

The business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327 called it “an unprecedented decision” by an appointee of Republican Gov. Paul LePage to strip away benefits from workers.

“The workers won their case in a due process hearing and then the LePage’s crony took it all away with no due process and in violation of Maine’s decades-old law protecting the rights of workers on strike,” Pete McLaughlin, Local 2327 business manager, said in a statement.

The decision, dated Thursday, was made by Jennifer Duddy, chairwoman of the Unemployment Insurance Commission. She acted alone because of a vacancy on the commission.

There was no immediate response from the governor’s office.

More than 1,700 workers represented by the IBEW and Communication Workers of America in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont went on strike in October 2014. They went back to work in late February after ratifying an agreement reached with North Carolina-based FairPoint during negotiations overseen by federal mediators.

Vermont granted unemployment benefits to its striking FairPoint workers but New Hampshire did not, said Jeff Young, lawyer for the unions. Maine workers won’t have to repay benefits anytime soon because there will be an appeal, and the repayment could be waived in the future even if the workers lose, he said.

It’s unclear how many workers were affected by the decision. About 900 workers represented by the unions went on strike in Maine and were eligible to apply for unemployment compensation.

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