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McClatchy-Tribune  08/03/2014 6:48 PM ET
FairPoint contract talks hit snag over workers' offer of 'savings' [The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester :: ]

Aug. 03--MANCHESTER -- Hours before two labor contracts expired Saturday, a union official said FairPoint Communications rejected a contract offer that would have saved the company about $180 million but which the company said would have produced less savings.

"How can you turn down around $180 million in savings?" said Glenn Brackett, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2320 in Manchester.

But a company spokesman said FairPoint negotiators were skeptical of the math.

"We believe the cost savings are significantly inflated," said Angelynne Amores Beaudry, FairPoint's director of corporate communications.

Negotiators from FairPoint, the IBEW and the Communications Workers of America worked Saturday at a Nashua hotel to try to hammer out new labor deals before the current contracts expired. Neither side would handicap the chances of reaching a settlement by the time contracts expired, at midnight Saturday.

The union deals cover between 660 and 705 New Hampshire workers. FairPoint has declined to say how many customers it serves in the Granite State.

Brackett said the unions proposed about $30 million in cash savings over the next three years as well as about $150 million in longer-term savings, including pension and retiree health care costs, Brackett said.

Beaudry said the company wants union employees to start paying for part of their health care coverage. It also is seeking the ability to outsource some work.

"We have to be able to respond quickly and be flexible," she said.

Brackett suggested the company might be sold.

"They rejected our offer and it's becoming apparent to the union that the company has a buyer," he said.

Beaudry called the claim "a red-herring argument that's being pushed by the union."

The two union deals would cover between 1,760 and 2,000 workers in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

In recent weeks, members of the two unions overwhelmingly approved strike authorization votes, which doesn't mean workers automatically will walk off their jobs if a new contract isn't reached.

mcousineau@unionleader.com

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