FairPoint, unions reach tentative agreement
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – FairPoint Communications and unions representing nearly 3,000 employees in northern New England have reached a tentative agreement on a contract as FairPoint prepares to submit its bankruptcy reorganization plan.
FairPoint was seeking $30 million in concessions from workers represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America as it works to restructure its debt load and reduce costs. The unions agreed last year on a five-year contract that was set to expire in August 2013.
Details of the reworked contract have not been released, but union officials said Tuesday it calls for restructured compensation packages, a one-year contract extension and increased cooperation between labor and management. The pact also calls for deferring a 2010 wage increase until the final year of the contract.
Union members will review and vote on the tentative agreement over the next week.
"Although FairPoint's financial and operational problems had nothing to do with our wages or working conditions, once again we've gone the extra mile to help FairPoint get back on its feet," said Pete McLaughlin, business manager of IBEW Local 2327.
Charlotte, N.C.-based FairPoint, which filed for bankruptcy Oct. 26, operates telecommunications companies in 18 states. It has suffered under heavy debt and technical problems since buying Verizon Communications' landline and Internet operations in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont in 2008 for $2.3 billion.
The company had been seeking concessions from the unions even before it filed for bankruptcy. The new agreement will help FairPoint reach its financial objectives set forth in the bankruptcy filing, said Gary Garvey, a senior vice president at FairPoint.
FairPoint officials say they are close to finishing up talks with banks, unions, regulatory agencies and other parties and that the filing of its bankruptcy reorganization plan is fast approaching.
The reorganization plan will be hundreds of pages long and will outline how FairPoint proposes paying creditors while also providing financial projections for the future, said FairPoint spokeswoman Rose Cummings.
In December, January and again this month, FairPoint pushed back deadlines on when it intended to submit its reorganization plan in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York. The filing is now "imminent," Cummings said.