String of Six Election Wins Brings 714 USCIS Workers into UE

April 3, 2008

In an impressive string of victories beginning January 31, UE won six out of nine NLRB elections among contract workers at two service centers of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) in Vermont and California. The wins bring 714 workers into UE, giving them the ability to fight back against many of the injustices they have suffered.

These new UE members are clerical employees who perform work for the federal government. They process legal applications for immigration visas and citizenship. Their work includes data entry, file set-up, maintenance and mailroom functions. The work has been outsourced to private contractors for several years. In early December, Stanley Associates took over as the lead contractor, with various portions of the lucrative contract work in Vermont and California awarded to four subcontractors.

Upon taking over management of the USCIS facilities, Stanley and its subcontractors immediately slashed the pay of many workers, and cut benefits including personal days, vacation, and 401(k) contributions. As federal contractors, these companies are subject to the Service Contract Act, which is meant to provide minimal protections to employees of federal contractors, including base wage rates for specific job classifications. But Stanley cynically manipulated the law and reclassified people’s jobs – though their job duties remained the same – to mask its massive pay cuts. The union called this “an equation for exploitation,” calculated to provide even bigger profits to Stanley and its subcontractors.

When workers complained that they were now making as much as $2 an hour less for the same work they’d been doing before Stanley took over, a top Stanley executive told them to “Get over it.” This arrogance infuriated workers and fueled a rapid UE organizing drive at both centers. That boss’s remark re-appeared as a slogan of the workers’ justice campaign, printed on union buttons which advised the employer, “We’re UE – GET OVER IT!”

The string of organizing successes started on January 31, with a 51-to-31 vote for UE by employees of Choctaw Archiving in Vermont. This was followed, the next day, by a 57-40 vote for UE by employees of Northrup Grumman Technical Services Inc., who braved a fierce Vermont winter storm to travel to NLRB polling places in St. Albans and Essex.

ON TO CALIFORNIA

Following the Vermont wins, a delegation of workers flew to California to meet and rally with workers there. That cross-country solidarity paid off in the first NLRB vote among workers at the Laguna Niguel center. On February 22, Studley Professional Services (SPS) workers voted 23-8 for UE.
Five days later, workers employed by Choctaw Archiving voted 124 to 11 for UE representation — an astonishing margin of more than 11 to 1! Their co-workers employed by Northrop Grumman also voted UE representation by a decisive 105 to 40 margin.

Leading up to the March 6 vote among Stanley workers in California, that company ran a brutal anti-union campaign. Bosses took individual workers into the back room, with security guards stationed at the door, for one-on-one intimidation sessions that in some cases lasted as long as eight hours. The company forced workers to attend three captive audience anti-union meetings a day, and two days before the vote, made workers sit through a propaganda video that slandered UE and our union’s record. The company told workers that union talk and activity was prohibited on the site, and two days before the vote the company filed an NLRB charge against UE, on phony allegations, in an attempt to get the NLRB to delay the election.
That last-minute stalling tactic failed, as did Stanley’s entire campaign in California. The majority of its employees stood up against the intimidation and voted 103-75 for UE.

So after nine elections, UE now represents a majority of workers at both the Vermont and California centers. “These strong wins position UE to make a strong move to the bargaining table in both locations,” said UE Director of Organization Bob Kingsley. “We are about the begin the next stage of this process and we remain intent on achieving a measure of justice for workers at these facilities in both California and Vermont.”

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