A federal mediator’s attempt to spark renewed talks between FairPoint Communications and its striking workers fizzled Tuesday.

That failure means the next outside attempt at resolving the monthlong strike probably will come from the National Labor Relations Board, which is considering a complaint filed by the unions.

“There wasn’t any progress,” said Peter McLaughlin, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ local in Augusta and a lead negotiator for the unions. “The company just had no interest in working with us.”

A FairPoint spokeswoman struck a similar tone.

“The unions made no proposal and for that reason, the impasse continues,” Angelynne Beaudry said.

The meeting lasted less than an hour in a federal mediator’s office in Boston.

The company, which has said it needs $700 million in concessions from workers to stay competitive in the telecommunications industry, declared an impasse in August and imposed a contract that freezes the pension plan, requires workers to contribute to health care costs and eliminates retirement health benefits for current workers.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America – which represent about 1,700 members in northern New England, including roughly 800 in Maine – said they have proposed changes to the contract that would save the company more than $200 million, but the company hasn’t budged. The workers walked out Oct. 17.

McLaughlin said that standoff was repeated in Tuesday’s meeting with the federal mediator who was assigned to the case from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. He said the union proposed breaking down some of the minor points of contention into smaller chunks to try to reach a resolution on those before moving on to more substantial matters.

Beaudry said the gulf between the two sides is so large that trying to tackle the differences by breaking them down “avoids the core issues.”

The company and the unions began meeting in April to negotiate new contracts, but the talks fell apart in late August when FairPoint’s representatives walked away from the negotiating table, claiming the parties had reached an impasse – a term in labor law that allows the company to impose the conditions of its final contract offer on its employees.

Since the beginning of August, the unions have filed six complaints with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the company of unfair labor practices. Two were initially rejected and are under appeal. The other four, two of which are identical, are pending.

How the board rules on the grievance that the unions filed after the company declared an impasse likely will be key. If the NLRB sides with the company and agrees that an impasse existed, the company will be able to move ahead with the imposed contract in place. If not, the company will have to restore the old contract and head back to negotiations. It is unknown when the board will rule.

Since the strike began, North Carolina-based FairPoint has brought in contract workers to maintain lines and service. The company has acknowledged it has a backlog of service requests and has asked customers to be patient.

The IBEW sought to increase public pressure on FairPoint by releasing four new television ads featuring employees and retirees demanding a “fair deal,” according to The Associated Press. One ad features a worker who’s trying to figure out how to pay for his daughter’s heart surgery after their insurance was canceled by FairPoint during the strike.

Another ad features a father, Marc Jutras, who’s caring for three children after his wife died. “All we’re looking to do is to get back to work,” Jutras says.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

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