Negotiators averted a possible strike late Saturday against Consolidated Communications, northern New England’s largest landline telephone company.

Union and company negotiators announced early Sunday that they had reached three-year agreements, setting aside the possibility that the company’s nearly 1,000 union employees would carry out their threat to strike for the second time in less than four years.

The agreements, which would expire on Aug. 7, 2021, are subject to ratification by members of the two unions involved.

The two sides had been negotiating for four months and were up against a deadline of midnight Saturday, when the old contracts expired. Negotiations seemed to have broken down over the company’s demand for changes to allow it to hire more independent contractors to make repairs, install equipment and maintain the system.

“We are pleased with this outcome and are optimistic our employees will ratify these new labor agreements,” Bob Udell, president and chief executive officer of the company, said in a statement. “We have seen a notable improvement in the relationship between the unions and the company and this agreement reflects that progress.”

Union officials from the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who represent the company’s workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, said the agreements responded to the needs of members and customers, as well as the profound changes affecting the telecommunications industry.

“In recent weeks, union members voted overwhelmingly to authorize union leaders to call a strike if they did not reach an acceptable agreement with the company,” they said in a statement.

Union members are expected to vote on the new contracts at meetings in all three states in the coming days.

There are some differences between the agreements reached between the company and each of the two unions. Union officials said that both agreements maintain high-quality affordable health care, provide improved retirement benefits through a new 401(k) savings plan, and protect local jobs for the life of the agreements.

But a small number of call center jobs could be moved out of the region, causing alarm for workers concerned about job security, The Associated Press reported.

Jim Feeney Jr., a technician based in Bangor, said he was concerned for the call center jobs, which he said need to stay in New England.

“If they move the jobs, then all of the benefits in the world don’t matter,” he told the AP on Sunday. “Job security is the most important thing.”

Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400 and co-chairman of the unions’ bargaining team, said hard-fought negotiations led to the best possible agreement for workers.

Consolidated originally proposed moving all residential call center jobs out of northern New England, he said. The final proposal provides early retirement incentives for those 128 full-time workers, and caps the number of jobs that could be moved at 55 percent, he said.

“We saved a lot of jobs and got a good exit package. The goal was to get the best package and to let our members vote on it,” he told the AP.

About 500 of the unions’ members work in Maine. Illinois-based Consolidated Communications, which operates in 23 states, bought the system from FairPoint a year ago, a decade after FairPoint bought it from Verizon.

Union employees went on strike for four months in 2014 after FairPoint, based in North Carolina, sought to freeze pensions, cut pay for new workers, eliminate retiree health insurance and hire more outside workers. The strike ended with a deal that retained workers’ defined-benefit pension plans, but workers did make concessions on other issues.

 

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