This week I had the opportunity to view the Fairpoint picket lines. I had never seen a picket line because I am from a family, where my parents and husband were and are never allowed to strike. I was able to speak to some of the picketers and one of the organizers to get some insight into what is happening.
The strike began on October 17th forcing close to 2,000 people in three states onto the picket lines. Their fight, that still continues today, is for fair contracts, keeping jobs local, keeping pensions and job security, according to Raymond resident Erin Nunn.
There is a negotiation team in Washington D.C working for the union. IBEW 2327 and CWA Local 1400. While mediation is going on there is a gag order in effect, so people on the lines don’t know exactly what is going on, but they are “cautiously optimistic,” said Nunn.
Being part of a union, “changes the basic power relationship at work. Without a union, employers have almost all the rights. They can change your pay and working conditions at any time as long as they do not violate certain laws, like the minimum wage. Any benefits you receive are at the discretion of your employer.”
In a union, “your employer cannot make changes in your working conditions unless they are negotiated with you as union members. Any benefits or working conditions covered by your contract are protected by law.”
“A union gives you strength in numbers to improve your pay, benefits, and working conditions.” (SEIU503.org)
Union members are striking 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. They have a schedule to accommodate people who had to go get jobs because while the workers are on strike, they are not getting paid.
“The goal is to get a fair contract and get back to work,” said union worker Julie Dawkins.
The people who have taken over the union jobs in the interim are considered “scabs”. When they arrive at work, the protesters march around in front of them three times and chant. Then as the car drives through, the yell “scab”.
As I said, I’m only beginning to understand how unions and strikes work. The union says “strike” and the workers have to leave their desks and start picketing regardless of how this will affect their families and their pocketbooks.
The replacement workers are only trying to do a job and get paid to help their families. What’s wrong with that? Why should they be yelled at on their way to and from work?
To me it seems like this is a very big us versus them mentality. What happens when the strike is over and the union workers return to their desks? Does everything go back to the way it was?
Nunn said that they all wanted to go back to work to help the customers. How are the customers coming first if Fairpoint is dragging out this fight with its employees? It seems to me that having trained employees who can help the customers should be the first priority. When it comes to teachers, nurses and police officers, they often work without contracts while negotiations are taking place behind the scenes…they are however still getting paid. My question is why strike? Is the hope that the compromise will happen sooner? I feel bad for the employees of Fairpoint who have been forced into their position of having a job, but needing to find another one to make ends meet. Where does it end?