With their contract set to expire in just over a week, FairPoint Communications and the union representing workers continued their negotiations this week.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical workers represents about 1,800 FairPoint employees in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
The union says members have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if necessary.
Mike Spillane is a Vermont member of the IBEW negotiating team. Returning Friday from talks in Nashua, New Hampshire Spillane said the sides are still far apart.
“So far I haven’t got any reason to have any hope. They haven’t accepted anything that we’ve brought out. We’re still quite a ways apart,” Spillane says.
Spillane says negotiations will resume on Tuesday, but without progress between now and August 2 a strike may be necessary.
“If we’re still miles apart with no hope in sight, we may have to go out on strike to break the gridlock that we’re in,” he says.
The negotiations involve a number of issues, including health and retirement benefits.
FairPoint says the current benefits are out of sync with industry norms.
In a statement, the company said, “Our primary objective is to reach a successful agreement and our focus remains so. We are seeking significant concessions such as a freeze in the defined benefit pension plan and changes in various work rules to allow more effective customer service."
"Our expectation is that we will be at the table negotiating in good faith with a goal of reaching an agreement,” the statement said.
FairPoint says it has contingency plans in place in case there is a strike.
Representatives of the Communications Workers of America are also involved in the negotiations. The union represents about 200 FairPoint employees.