Maine’s Business Court ruled in favor of unemployment benefits for the workers who went on strike against FairPoint.

The court last week overruled a finding by the Unemployment Insurance Commission that the 900 Maine workers were not eligible for unemployment compensation during the strike that ran from October 2014 to February 2015.

About half the workers received benefits in the summer of 2015, based on a ruling by a hearing officer that they were entitled to the aid because FairPoint had used replacement workers during the strike and therefore had not seen a “substantial curtailment of operations” during the walkout.

The strike ended when unions approved a new contract that runs to August 2018.

Jennifer Duddy, chairwoman of the state’s Unemployment Insurance Commission, rejected the hearing officer’s finding in October 2015 and said workers who had received benefits would have to repay them.

The business court ruled that workers should not have been forced to show that FairPoint maintained its normal operations despite the strike, but that the company should have had to prove that its operations had been significantly cut back because of the walkout.

The ruling means the case goes back to the commission with new guidelines for making its determination on eligibility of benefits.

It’s unclear how much was paid out in unemployment benefits because of the strike, but in the case of a single worker on whom Duddy based her decision, that FairPoint worker had received more than $6,000 in benefits.

“FairPoint must now prove that there was a substantial curtailment of work for each and every week of the strike,” Jeffrey N. Young, one of the lawyers for the FairPoint strikers, said in a release hailing the decision.

“Workers do not strike often, and usually only strike as a last resort in the face of extreme employer conduct.”

Young said the court also ruled that a 1985 change in labor laws in Maine didn’t change the standards for whether striking workers are eligible for unemployments benefits and that the state commission needs to make a week-by-week determination if workers were eligible for benefits.

“It should be easier in the future for employees involved in a labor dispute to receive unemployment benefits, particularly where, as here, the employer chooses to hire strike replacements,” Young said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.