Three New England locals managed to avoid a strike and ratify a new contract with Consolidated Communications.
"It came together, finally," said Augusta, Maine, Local 2327 Business Manager Peter McLaughlin. "We were on the verge, but we managed to stop the clock."
Local 2327 was joined in negotiations by Manchester, N.H., Local 2320 and Montpelier, Vt., Local 2326, as well as Communications Workers of America Local 1400. The IBEW locals are all members of the T-9 system council, which allows them to band together when bargaining since all members work for the same company.
"We're all on the same team," said McLaughlin, who also heads the system council. "It's a very cohesive group."
Negotiations began in March and by July seemed to be heading for a strike. But that fate was averted with some stronger subcontracting and transfer-of-work language and in early August members voted overwhelmingly for the new four-year agreement.
"Nobody wants to go on strike, but we certainly will," McLaughlin said, noting that members voted overwhelmingly for the option but did not actually have to pull the trigger.
When all was said and done, 95% of the membership voted in favor of the new contract.
"They're very pleased with the agreement," McLaughlin said.
Included in the new deal, which covers roughly 900 IBEW members, are raises of 1.5% in the first year, 1.75% in the following two and 2% in the final year. Rural workers will also get an additional bump of 2% to bring them up to parity with urban workers. Previously, Consolidated put the two groups in different "zones" or categories where those outside of city centers were paid less.
"The strength of our membership, the unity within the T-9, and full support from the IBEW Second District is why we were able to negotiate a fair contract," said Local 2320 Business Manager Jim Golden. "We stood strong, and our members were united and determined to achieve a fair contract, even if we had to strike to get it done."
Part of that Second District support came from International Representative Ed Starr, who worked alongside the council to close the deal without having to go on strike, said Second District Vice President Mike Monahan.
Members also won a telework agreement for those who can and choose to do their jobs from home. In some respects, it was an extension of the temporary agreement they had because of the coronavirus.
"Members and management both like it," McLaughlin said. "The company noticed how attendance was up with telework and how well it was working overall."
While members never had to strike, they did do informational pickets and solidarity days where everyone was encouraged to wear red. Among the sign language was "nothing left to give," a nod to what members have lost over the years as the company changed hands. Before it was Consolidated it was FairPoint, and Verizon before that. And through those changes, benefits like pensions and retiree health care had become casualties.
McLaughlin says one of the strongest elements of the negotiation period was the solidarity of the membership.
"The members were ready to go and that really helped," he said. "It sends a strong message."
It's a sentiment shared by Sandra Tumosa, business manager of Local 2326.
"I credit this victory to the combined efforts of those at the table and the members who showed their support in so many ways," said Tumosa, who is also secretary-treasurer of the system council. "The members' show of solidarity made this win possible and I was reminded every day that we work with the very best in the industry."
McLaughlin noted that Consolidated is in the second year of a five-year build-out of its broadband service and that means a lot of work for members. "Our members do it all," McLaughlin said, from customer service to the build-out, to installation and repairs.
"This contract will ensure workers are compensated fairly and that customers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont receive fast, reliable, broadband internet built and installed with skilled union labor," McLaughlin said. "This is a very important victory for workers and customers after several months of tough negotiations. There's no question that the strong solidarity of the members of these four union locals brought us this critical victory."