Vermont Members' Persistence Wins Pay Raises In First Contract at Northrop Grumman

October 9, 2008

On September 12 workers at Northrop Grumman at the Vermont Service Center in St. Albans, Vermont voted to ratify their first union contract. The three-year agreement comes after months of struggle by the members of new UE Local 208. Besides solid contractual protections and benefit improvements, it provides 9 percent increases in wages that they employer resisted granting right to the end.

Through four months of bargaining, members gradually built the contractual groundwork for a functioning union that can protect their rights on the job. They negotiated a grievance procedure and arbitration, recognition of one steward for every 20 workers, and union shop. Seniority is defined as each worker’s years at the service center – not just their time with Northrop Grumman. The workers gained a dollar-for-dollar match on their 401(k) for up to 2 percent of the workers’ salary, and vacation improvements that allow workers to bank up to 2.5 years’ vacation, and accrue vacation monthly rather than annually.


But up to the end of negotiations, the company stubbornly insisted on a wage freeze in the contract. Northrop Grumman employees had already gone four years without a raise and had no intention of signing a contract with no raises. Workers wore T-shirts, stickers, held rallies, and enlisted the support of community leaders in a final push to change the company’s position. Critical in this struggle was the assistance of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders who meet with workers a number of times. Sen. Sanders called and wrote Northrop managers to tell the company that these Vermonters deserved better. Sanders – who had actively supported the workers’ struggle since the start of their organizing campaign last winter – also held a press conference with workers as they rallied on September 8, the day before the last scheduled bargaining session.

All this activity changed the company’s mind. Under the new agreement workers will receive 9 percent in wage increases over three years. This means that most workers will receive $1.35 per hour increase over the life of the contract. Other employees will receive $1.59 in raises. ‘PROUD THAT WE STOOD UP’

“This is a good, beginning contract,” said Susan Hunter, NG worker and negotiating committee member. “We have protections in place, and this is a place to start.” Lisa Stenta, a first shift steward, agreed. “It feels good to know we accomplished our goal of getting our first union contract at the Vermont Service Center. Hopefully it means that we’ll be recognized and respected for the work we do.” Sue Sabourin is “…glad it’s ratified. The fight is not over, but this is a good start.”

Other NG workers expressed similar views. “Be proud that we stood up for our rights and won,” said Nadine Wethersby, a first shift steward, who added, “Someone once said ‘in work as in life, you don’t get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate.’” Negotiating committee member Jane Scanlon is “... proud to have represented a strong group of fellow employees. It was a rough struggle and they all stood strong. With a contract we’ve become more united. It has opened the door for our future.”

“It’s a start for us,” said Ann Pecor. ”It’s the first step of going somewhere.” Jessica Real commented, “It’s about time these people who have been working here for years get a piece of what they deserve.” And Carmen Choquette added, “Thanks to everybody for all their efforts in fighting for the contract.”

Readers may recall that UE won two NLRB elections among employees of contractors at the Vermont Service Center early this year. Workers at Choctaw Archiving voted 51 to 31 for UE on January 31, and a few weeks later Northrop Grumman workers voted 57-40 for the union. But in July, while contract negotiations were underway for both Vermont units as well as California workers, Choctaw suddenly pulled out of its federal contract. Its work and its workers in Vermont were absorbed into the workforces of Stanley Associates and Federal Working Group, the two contractors whose anti-union tactics had managed to defeat their employees’ organizing efforts. But with many strong UE supporters now working for both of these companies, and with their co-workers at Northrop winning improvements and union protection, workers for these contractors may yet be organized.

UE Local 205’s bargaining committee consisted of Susan Hunter, Cyndi Moreau and Jane Scanlon. They were assisted by International Rep. Kim Lawson, Northeast Region President Peter Knowton, and Project Organizer Kate Kanelstein.


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