A little less than six months after voting to join UE, federal contract workers in Lincoln, Nebraska have their first union contract. The five-year agreement was reached in just three days of bargaining, which concluded on October 28, and ratified by the members on October 30. It includes substantial increases in compensation and strong language to protect workers’ rights.
The first agreement for UE Local 808 at the Nebraska Service Center came just days after its sister locals, UE Local 208 in St. Albans, Vermont and Local 1008 in Laguna Niguel, California, reached agreement with their employers on new five-year contracts. All three groups of workers are employed by contractors for the United States Customs and Immigration Services, and they process immigration documents for this federal agency.
Negotiations in Nebraska were delayed until a new federal contractor, FCI Federal, who also operates the center in Laguna Niguel, California, took over operations at the Nebraska Service Center on October 13. FCi Federal also operates the California Service Center and employs the members of Local 1008. Workers in Lincoln greeted their new employer with a large rally demanding negotiations begin immediately. They carried stop signs reading, “FCi: STOP Stalling, Negotiate Now,” but FCi Federal refused to enter negotiations until October 26, leaving just two and a half days to negotiate a first contract. The day after this rally, FCi responded by suspending without pay three of Local 808’s leaders who are members of the union negotiating committee. The union immediately filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board for the company’s violation of workers’ rights. The workers held a press conference to make the public aware of the company’s illegal actions.
In contract negotiations the company agreed to full back pay for the suspended workers, as well as removing the suspensions from their records. Despite the company’s attacks and stalling, Local 808’s negotiating committee remained determined to fight for a fair contract. The new local built on the foundation laid by the members of Locals 208 and 1008 in their past negotiations and the strong mobilization they had conducted over the past few months to negotiate their latest contracts.
The top issue for workers in Lincoln was wages, since they had not received a pay raise in over five years. The new contract guarantees wage increases for each of the next five years, including over 5 percent total increased compensation in the first year of the contract. Workers are excited to now be protected by “just cause” language against unfair discipline, and they look forward to using a strong grievance procedure to protect workers’ rights. They’re also ready to hammer out some of the policies that were not fully addressed in the abbreviated negotiating sessions.
As the company’s deadline to complete negotiations neared on Wednesday, October 28, large groups of workers attended negotiations holding signs simply stating “10/29,” showing their willingness to walk off their jobs the next day if agreement could not be reached for a fair contract. As midnight approached, when second shift workers finish their work day, more than 40 workers marched into negotiations. Members of the UE bargaining committee say this was the point when the company finally started move significantly on the issues, as the possibility of a work stoppage became more serious. Nearly a dozen rank-and-file observers were still I the negotiation room when final agreements were reached well after 4:00 a.m., less than two hours before first shift workers were prepared to stay home from work.
On Friday, October 30, workers voted to ratify the new contract, and in just one day, 170 new members signed cards to officially join the union. Local officer elections are set for later in November. The hard work and dedication of the negotiating committee, contract support committee, many rank-and-filers, as well as the strong first day sign-up, have positioned Local 808 to be an active, powerful rank-and-file union in the years to come.
Members of UE’s negotiating committee included Zachary Knipe, Andrew Martens, Lacey Harry, Richard White, Bien Nguyen, and alternates Victoria Hilton and Ashley Neukirch. Local 808 was assisted in negotiations by UE Field Organizers Jack Lassiter and Jason Whisler, Director of Organization Gene Elk, and International Representative Karen Hardin.