On February 28th, the members of UE Local 228 overwhelming ratified a new two-year agreement that includes substantial wage increases and corrects egregious company practices that gave many employees disparate benefits for the same work. The local’s 600 members process immigration documents and provide petitioner support at the Department of State’s National Visa Center. They are employed by federal contractor PAE and its subcontractor, Ikun LLC.
Local 228 had ratified its first contract just one year before. In its first agreement, the local had won good foundational contract language, but was unable to secure meaningful wage gains. The then newly organized local had remained sharply divided after enduring the company’s intense union-busting efforts during the three-year-long organizing campaign. According to Local 228 President Bill Ladd, during the first contract fight “nobody wanted to stick their neck out because they were afraid of management. Our members didn’t yet understand their rights or their collective power.”
With the company’s refusal to provide real wages increases, Local 228’s bargaining committee would not agree to a contract term greater than one year. They had determined to build the local’s organizational strength and return to the table again this year better-positioned to secure a living wage. Immediately following the first contract’s ratification, UE 228 stewards and officers got to work.
Local activists enlisted and trained additional stewards. They pushed back relentlessly as the company attempted to renege on its agreements. They filed 135 grievances in 2017 and informally resolved hundreds of employee problems. They educated members about their rights, publicized their victories, and demonstrated that fear of management retaliation for union involvement was unwarranted. Through their tireless efforts, they were able to unite a divided workforce and become an effective UE local. This organizational growth would pay huge dividends during the 2018 contract campaign.
In addition to a living wage for all bargaining unit members, UE 228’s key contract demand was equal benefits for equal work. Nearly 100 members are employed by PAE’s subcontractor Ikun. Unlike the PAE coworkers they worked with side-by-side, Ikun employees did not receive a 401(k) match, nor did they have the ability to elect to take as cash the extra money available to them in their Health & Welfare funds. The lack of the extra cash benefit meant a disparity of as much as $60 each week in gross pay.
During bargaining, Local 228 demonstrated to the company the full extent to which they had come together since the first contract. Hundreds of members wore UE shirts, buttons, and lanyards. They observed negotiations and organized a contract rally that was twice the size of the previous year’s rally. They covered the Visa Center with signs that said “PAE we need more P-A-Y”. Chief Steward Lori Lavigne observed that “It was amazing to see. Virtually every desk had one of those signs. The company finally got the message.”
Over the two-year contract, wages are increasing by between 6.7 percent and 8.1 percent. Dozens of employees working in positions requiring Spanish or other language skills now earn an additional one-dollar differential. Sick leave is now provided by annual deposit, rather than accrual. All members, regardless of employer, now receive the 401(k) match and all other available benefits under the same terms.
Local 228 also got rid of a widely-hated $13 monthly fee that the contractors had been charging employees for the cost of administering their benefits. Newly hired employees are now attending a paid orientation meeting with the local’s stewards. Other gains include two additional union bulletin boards, an increased grievance filing window, and additional pay whenever a member provides training to other employees.
The negotiation committee consisted of President Bill Ladd, Chief Stewards Lori Lavigne and June Vermette, Financial Secretary Shane Tassinari, and Stewards Tony D’Iorio and Dee Towne. They were assisted by Field Organizers Abbie Curtis and Zachary Knipe and UE President Peter Knowlton.