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Striking FairPoint Workers To Receive Jobless Benefits

VPR/Steve Zind
FairPoint workers Lori Farnham of Randolph and Brenda Churchill of Bakersfield were among those at a union rally in Montpelier

Members of the two unions on strike against FairPoint Communications rallied in Montpelier Thursday. They were more than a month past their last paychecks. The company has also discontinued their health insurance.

Lineman Kevin Major of Barre Town says he’s living off savings and some part time work.

“[I'm] doing some side jobs, fall cleanups and stuff like that, trying to pick up a little bit of money here and there," says Major, a 27-year veteran with FairPoint and its predecessors.

The state has now determined that striking Vermont FairPoint workers are eligible for up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits.  

Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan says providing the benefits is not a given in the case of strikes.

“We had to look at the situation based upon not only what Vermont statute says, but what the Vermont Supreme Court has ruled in situations where there have been strikes.”

Noonan says her department has processed nearly 300 claims so far. A few remain under review. 

At Thursday's rally, Joe Smith, a line worker from Ascutney, said he'd heard that benefits were approved and hopes to see an unemployment check soon.

"I'm living on what little savings I had, trying not to spend any money on anything. It's scary stuff to maybe have to tell your kid there might not be Christmas this year." Smith says.

The claims may increase the amount of unemployment taxes FairPoint will pay in the future and the company could appeal the department’s decision.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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