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FairPoint Workers Deserve Our Support



Thursday, December 18, 2014
In the United Church of Christ, and in other Christian denominations, we are in the midst of the season of Advent, a time of expectation and hope-filled waiting as we move toward the celebration of the birth of one called Jesus of Nazareth. But it is not the birth in and of itself that informs our faith — it is what the child became and the moral lessons he taught us about how to live, how to be in community with one another, and how to lift up the common good.

In this same season of Advent 2014, however, we look around in communities throughout our state and see workers who come from all faith persuasions — dedicated, highly skilled FairPoint Communications workers who are part of the backbone of New Hampshire’s middle class — on strike and out on freezing picket lines to make their own moral stand for the common good.

These are our friend and neighbors, our brothers and sisters, who help make our communities strong. What they are up against is a hard-hearted North Carolina-based company, now owned primarily by hedge funds, that has no interest in the community fabric of our state or in supporting good, family-sustaining jobs. It seems that FairPoint’s current mission is not the delivery of high-quality telecom service for local residents, but rather a transformation to low-wage jobs with drastic reductions in basic benefits and the use of “iffy” itinerant labor where skilled, experienced workers once served us so well.

In our view, FairPoint Communications never should have been doing business in New Hampshire to begin with. In 2007 and early 2008, FairPoint, a small rural telecom, jumped at the chance to acquire the land lines in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont that Verizon Communications had put up for sale. But that sale quintupled the size of tiny FairPoint Communications, and the corporation was never up to the task. As an April 2, 2014, Bangor (Maine) Daily News article reiterated, “Many were skeptical when FairPoint Communications took over telephone service from Verizon in Northern New England back in 2008. How could this small, regional utility take over an infrastructure as vast as Verizon’s in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont? The deal saw FairPoint grow its footprint roughly sixfold, and state utility regulators were unsure the company — which didn’t even have the upfront cash to finance the deal — could handle such rapid growth.”

Not long after the Verizon acquisition, FairPoint filed for bankruptcy protection. Then, perhaps seeing a cheap way to grab a troubled company (and maybe strip it of good jobs and then flip it?), hedge fund owners took over — and what we perceive to be an assault on decent jobs and the collective bargaining process began in earnest.

So here we are today: hedge fund corporate owners versus dedicated New Hampshire (and Maine and Vermont) workers who have the courage to take a stand to protect the kinds of jobs that sustain families and strong communities. Shades of Moses standing up against Pharaoh’s hard heart, perhaps? Or David versus Goliath? Or Jesus challenging the greedy money changers?

At present, families and communities in all three states are being placed at significant risk by FairPoint’s inability to provide essential services without a skilled work force. Consumers, including providers of emergency services, have lost access to phone and Internet service in recent weeks, sometimes in the midst of weather emergencies, and FairPoint’s “replacement workers” seem unable to respond in a professional and timely way. This is unconscionable. It is past time for FairPoint’s corporate leaders to chart a new course and make a legitimate effort to reach a fair settlement that will put skilled workers back on the job and get essential services restored. Every FairPoint customer should demand just that.

We who are a part of the New Hampshire United Church of Christ’s Economic Justice Mission Group hear the moral imperative of this Advent Season (and beyond) to stand as one with the striking FairPoint workers who are part of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communications Workers of America. We stand in solidarity with these workers by supporting their strike fund (see fairnessatfairpoint.com) and by using our voices and our presence to signal that their cause is just and that New Hampshire deserves far better than the economic low road FairPoint is now on. In the spirit of the season, we invite many others to join us.



The Revs. Gail Kinney, of Canaan, John Gregory-Davis, of Meriden, Richard Stuart, of Sandwich, N.H., and Les Norman, of New London, are all clergy within the United Church of Christ in New Hampshire.