OpEd: FairPoint worker speaks out for universal healthcare

This OpEd by Kris White, is a mother and FairPoint worker from Grand Isle, has so far been published in the Rutland Herald, Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, and Vermont Digger.

I am writing this letter to ask my neighbors, in this season of giving, to join us as we stand up to corporate greed, demand dignified, meaningful work and make a case for health care as a human right.

My name is Kris White and I live in Grand Isle. I am a mother, a Fairpoint worker and a steward in my union, Communication Workers of America Local 1400, which along with our sister union, IBEW Local 2326, is striking against a shameful anti-human trend in this country that puts profits over people.

The majority of FairPoint stock is owned by five Wall Street hedge funds. Angelo, Gordon & Co. is the single largest shareholding hedge fund with 20 percent of outstanding stock. These firms have no interest in maintaining and improving a quality communications company. They are in business to make massive profits. Fairpoint does not have to pay those investors by stripping the retired and active employees of the jobs and benefits we have invested our lives in earning. They are choosing to do so.Their goal was to get us to agree to changes that would increase their profits by $600 million per year or force a strike. We know this because they have been unwilling to negotiate. They came to the bargaining table with one proposal and have not entertained a single compromise.

They have frozen retiree pensions and ended their health care. To active employees they’ve made proposals that we simply can’t afford. In an attempt to break our spirit, our health and our union and show us who has the power, they have forced a strike. However, we remain unmoved by their greedy tactics and stand united. Our solidarity against their disgusting disregard for family and community is our power.

They proposed raising out-of-pocket health care costs between $400 and $1,200 per month. We make good wages, but not enough to add this expense to our family budgets. This is in addition to proposals that would allow the company to outsource our work. Fairpoint wants to eliminate good jobs in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. They want to replace long-term, skilled workers. We can’t allow them to become the Wal-Mart of telecommunications.

In large part, we are striking because of the outrageous increases proposed to our health plans even though we knew that one month into the strike we’d all lose our health care. For those of us with chronic health conditions this is a difficult situation. I am a type I diabetic and my daughter has asthma. Both conditions require ongoing treatment and supplies. This is costly. In other words, our costs are going up at precisely the same time as our family income takes a serious hit. This can’t be sustained. It is the kind of dynamic our Wall Street owners expect and count on to starve and freeze us out.

I believe that health care is a human right and this experience has strengthened my resolve to fight for a system that works for our communities. It is outrageous that greedy corporations hold so much leverage over our families simply to increase profits for billionaires. If we all had health care by virtue of residency rather than based on where we work, or how much money we have, we would eliminate this power dynamic that is ruining what so many of us have worked so hard for.

Please join us as we stand up against corporate greed and protect good jobs in Northern New England. Come out to a picket line. Express your solidarity. Consider making a holiday gift to our strike fund. Join us as we call for the creation of a health care system that treats all people fairly and equitably. Come to a major march and rally at the Statehouse on Jan. 8 to demand health care as a human right. Our fight is for everyone, for all families and for the health of our communities.