PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — FairPoint Communications workers ratified a new contract during three days of voting, ending a four-month strike by more than 1,700 workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, two unions announced Sunday.
Workers for northern New England's primary telephone company were eager to return to their jobs this week after a bitter strike in which both sides made concessions that eased some of the terms the company sought to impose.
Todd Bedard, a FairPoint worker in Concord, New Hampshire, said he's satisfied with the outcome.
"They have to do what's best for their business model. We as employees have to do what's best for us. In any contract, if people on both sides are unhappy, then I guess you have yourself a good contract," he said.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communications Workers of America announced the voting results upon conclusion of voting that occurred on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The unions didn't provide the exact vote count.
FairPoint CEO Paul Sunu said the contract provides excellent pay and benefits for workers while allowing the company to invest in new products and infrastructure.
"With this contract in hand, and the flexibility to manage our workforce more effectively, we are better positioned to provide the telecommunications services northern new England wants and needs," Sunu continued. "We know that our unionized workforce shares FairPoint's core goal of providing great customer service and competitive prices for communications products and services."
Workers, who return to their jobs on Wednesday, went on strike in October after the company began imposing terms of its "final offer" that froze workers' pensions, imposed pay reductions for new employees and required workers to contribute to health care costs for the first time. It also eliminated health insurance for employees when they retire and allowed the company to hire outside workers.
Under the new contract, current employees keep their defined benefit pension but contributions will be reduced; workers will contribute to health care costs but the amount will be less under a union health plan; and transitional stipends will be offered to new retirees to help pay for health insurance.
The contract, which will be in effect until Aug. 4, 2018, also eliminates a proposed two-tier pay scale and allows limited use of outside contractors, officials said.
Finally, existing employees will get a $400 payment along with general pay raises of 1 percent in August 2016 and 2 percent in August 2017, officials said.
The North Carolina-based company, which provides telephone and high-speed Internet service, went bankrupt after buying Verizon's landline holdings in the region for $2.3 billion in 2007, and it has struggled to become profitable since emerging from bankruptcy.
Both sides knew changes were needed to keep the company competitive.
"Based on the financial stability of this company we think we made a fair agreement," said Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400.
Peter McLaughlin, chairman of the union bargaining committee and an IBEW business manager, said it's time for employees to get back to doing what they do best. "We like being telephone people," he said. "This is what we do."
Follow David Sharp on Twitter at https://twitter.com/David_Sharp_AP