- Associated Press - Sunday, August 5, 2018

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - About 1,000 Consolidated Communication workers across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are going to begin voting this week on tentative contract agreements that were reached late Saturday, averting a potential strike.

Union officials said agreements with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communications Workers of America protect jobs, maintain affordable health care, and provide enhanced retirement benefits.

But a small number of call center jobs could be moved out of the region, causing alarm for workers concerned about job security.

Jim Feeney Jr., a technician based in Bangor, said he was concerned for the call center jobs, which he said need to stay in New England.

“If they move the jobs, then all of the benefits in the world don’t matter,” he said Sunday. “Job security is the most important thing.”

These were the unions’ first negotiations with Consolidated Communications, which purchased FairPoint Communications last year. Workers’ last contracts with FairPoint were preceded by a four-month strike that began in October 2014.

Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400 and co-chairman of the unions’ bargaining team, said hard-fought negotiations led to the best possible agreement for workers.

Consolidated originally proposed moving all residential call center jobs out of northern New England, he said. The final proposal provides early retirement incentives for those 128 full-time workers, and caps the number of jobs that could be moved at 55 percent, he said.

“We saved a lot of jobs and got a good exit package. The goal was to get the best package and to let our members vote on it,” he said.

Workers who already authorized a strike will vote this week. The two unions are united, and won’t cross the other’s pickets if it comes to a strike.

Illinois-based Consolidated Communications provides telephone and broadband internet in northern New England. It also operates in 21 other states.

Workers are concerned that the loss of any jobs could lead to a flood of job losses, along with the loss of autonomy of the three-state region. But the company contends it needs flexibility when it comes to hiring subcontractors to expedite repair, maintenance and installations.

Bob Udell, Consolidated president and CEO, said in a statement that he was pleased with the outcome of the negotiations, and hopes the contracts are ratified.

He believes the company has turned the corner in labor relations. Many workers were frustrated with North Carolina-based FairPoint.

“Since our acquisition of FairPoint a year ago, we have seen a notable improvement in the relationship between the unions and the company, and this agreement reflects that progress,” Udell said in a statement.

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