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FairPoint evaluates 2 unions' contract proposal

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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — FairPoint Communications said Thursday it had received a contract proposal from two unions representing more than 1,700 workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and had asked for time to evaluate it.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communications Workers of America put forth a proposal addressing key issues such as pensions, health care and contract workers, but company officials left the negotiations in Portland without any comment 10 minutes later, IBEW Local 2326 business manager Mike Spillane said Thursday, nearly two weeks after the previous contract expired.

Later, FairPoint, which is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, said it was evaluating the proposal and continuing to explore its options.

Spillane said the unions have made concessions, but he said it hasn't translated into progress.

"We're running out of rope here," he said. "I think that very soon, if they don't change their ways, there's going to be nothing left."

FairPoint Communications Inc. has struggled since buying Verizon's landline telephone operations in northern New England seven years ago, even after emerging from bankruptcy in 2011.

It contends its benefits are out of sync with industry norms. It proposed freezing the union workers' existing defined benefit pension plan and converting the contributions into an existing 401(k) program. It also wants to make changes to the health care plan and wants flexibility to hire more contract workers.

Union workers, who are unhappy with those proposed changes, authorized a strike. For now, workers are continuing to work terms of the contract that expired Aug. 3 while negotiations continue.

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