AUGUSTA — More than 30 FairPoint Communications union workers protested on Tuesday outside the Senator Inn and Spa because FairPoint co-sponsored a Maine State Chamber of Commerce forum on health insurance.

The striking workers said they wanted to send a message that the company has taken away their health insurance while sponsoring a forum to help businesses understand how to manage health insurance for their employees.

“We find it kind of ironic they’re sponsoring a health care seminar when at the end of October, even though they didn’t have to, they took away all of our health care for 2,000 members,” said Diane Winton, president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327.

Winton, of Westbrook, said the hope is that FairPoint returns to the bargaining table in good faith.

However, a spokeswoman for FairPoint said that even though the workers lost their health insurance when they walked off the job, they still have other options for coverage.

The striking workers can return to work, seek health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace or seek health insurance through COBRA, a federal program that allows some employees to receive health insurance after leaving employment, spokeswoman Angelynne Beaudry said.

“They have a number of options they could elect to choose,” she said.

Negotiations between representatives from the IBEW local and FairPoint at a meeting with a federal mediator last month went nowhere, continuing the strike that’s been ongoing since workers walked out Oct. 17. The unions submitted a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board.

The IBEW local negotiator said the company had no interest in working with the striking workers, and a spokeswoman for the company said the unions made no proposals.

At the protest Tuesday, workers from both the IBEW local, which represents about 1,700 members in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, and the Communications Workers of America Local 1400, which represents nearly 300 workers in those three states, stood outside the Senator Inn waving signs at passers-by. Winton said most workers were from Lewiston and points north.

Peter Keefe, a splice service technician from Hebron, said the company has gone after workers’ health care, pensions and job security by trying to contract out work.

“They’ve gone after everything,” he said. “We’re in the fight of our lives, and we know it. We’re dug in and we’re ready.”

Keefe, 43, said the strike has affected him, because without health insurance, he’s expecting a hefty bill after his son needed treatment at the hospital.

The company recently asked workers to return to work in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, saying that the old contract was out of sync with the rest of the industry, according to the Associated Press.

“There is no lockout,” Mike Reed, FairPoint’s president in Maine, told the AP. “If they want to return to the workforce, then they need only to call their supervisor.”

The chamber forum at the Senator Inn was focused on the federal Affordable Care Act and what mandates will affect Maine businesses in the next two years.

Krista MacKay, of South Gardiner, said she joined her fellow union members Tuesday to send a message to FairPoint.

MacKay, 48, said as a result of losing her insurance during the strike, she’s been unable to afford all of her prescriptions and has to choose which to buy herself.

“Right now, I’m without health insurance, and hopefully nothing catastrophic happens,” MacKay said. “A lot of people are in the same boat.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig


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