PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Two unions representing about 1,000 Consolidated Communications workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont have approved three-year contracts, their first under the Illinois-based company, officials said Friday.
The negotiating committee of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communications Workers of America announced the approval while acknowledging in a statement on social media that concessions "will have a profound effect on many of our lives."
Those concessions include freezing the defined-benefit pension plan effective Jan. 1 and granting additional flexibility for the company to hire outside contractors.
Despite those concessions, the contracts, which include modest pay raises, high-quality health care, 401(k) contributions and enhanced retirement benefits, are good for workers and for the company, said Pete McLaughlin, business manager of IBEW Local 2327 and co-chairman of the bargaining committee.
"Fortunately we were able to come to an agreement without hitting the streets like we did last time," he said, referring to a four-month strike in late 2014 and early 2015.
Consolidated Communications, which bought Charlotte, North Carolina-based FairPoint Communications last year, provides telephone and broadband internet in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. It also operates in 21 other states.
These were the unions' first negotiations with Consolidated, which had touted better labor relations with workers in the three states since its $1.3 billion purchase of FairPoint.
Consolidated CEO Bob Udell said the new agreements provide flexibility to improve service while allowing the company to manage costs "as a sustainable, long-term business."
The contracts, which will run through Aug. 7, 2021, were based on hard-fought negotiations over four months, said Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400 and the other co-chairman of the bargaining team.
For call center workers, provisions allow Consolidated to move up to 55 percent of the 128 full-time workers out of the region, but early retirement incentives are intended to mitigate the impact, Trementozzi said.
Even though the agreement isn't perfect, call center workers who approved it realized it was the best that they could get, he said. The company originally wanted to eliminate all call center positions in the region, he said.
The unions said in a statement that the agreements "maintain high quality affordable health care, provide enhanced retirement benefits through a new 401K savings plan, and protect many local jobs for the life of the agreements."
The last strike began after FairPoint froze pensions, imposed pay reductions on new workers, eliminated retiree health insurance and allowed itself to hire more outside workers. The agreement that ended the strike allowed employees to keep their defined-benefit pension plans, but there were concessions on company contributions, health care costs and other issues.
The end of the defined-benefit pension plan in the new contracts follows an industry trend toward companies shifting to 401(k) retirement plans.