FairPoint freezes pensions for workers; next up, new health care plan



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PORTLAND, Maine — The employee contract FairPoint is imposing over the objections of two unions representing 2,000 workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont became even more real Tuesday with the company freezing the old pension plan. Later this month, open enrollment begins on a health plan that will require workers to pay for the first time.

The old defined-benefit pension plan was frozen for current employees on Tuesday; future contributions will match employee contributions to individual 401k plans, the company said.

The company imposed its final contract offer in late August after months of contract negotiations with the two unions. The company-imposed health care plan that'll require workers to contribute to health care costs doesn't go into effect until Jan. 1, but the open enrollment period begins later this month.

"The changes that we're making will ensure FairPoint's ability to price products competitively in the 21st century telecommunications marketplace and are critical to our ability to meet the needs of customers, communities and economies in northern New England," said company spokeswoman Angelynne Amores Beaudry.

The Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have gone to the National Labor Relations Board for help, accusing the company of failing to bargain in good faith.

A labor-led delegation also traveled to Boston on Tuesday to raise awareness at a conference for people who work with employee benefits. The unions have been asking hedge funds that own half of the company's stock to press the company to return to the negotiating table.

In particular, they've targeted New York-based Angelo, Gordon & Co., the largest of FairPoint's shareholders. A spokesman for the company didn't immediately return a call.

"Angelo, Gordon wants to have it both ways. It wants to continue to profit from managing the retirement investments of working people from all across the country, while it allows FairPoint ... to freeze the pensions of 2,000 workers in northern New England," said Jenn Nappi, assistant business manager of IBEW Local 2327 in Augusta, Maine.

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