At the end of February, Local 228 successfully negotiated a three-year contract with a new contractor, LDRM, which took over operations of the National Visa Center on March 1. The new contract includes hefty wage increases, measures to soften the blow of runaway insurance costs, and no substantial concessions on language.
In the dozen years that UE has represented federal contract workers, this was only the second time that a new contractor has agreed to negotiations prior to taking over the contract — the first being the negotiations that Locals 208, 1008 and 1118 conducted with their new contractors last fall.
Company negotiators agreed to adopt the existing Local 228 contract with the previous contractor as a starting point for negotiations, but then proceeded to dominate three days of negotiations with demands to expand mandatory overtime and to incorporate quotas into multiple aspects of the contract.
The UE negotiating committee held firm in rejecting these concessions, and focused instead on wages. Backed up by members who came to negotiations by the dozens to support the union’s position, they presented an ambitious wage proposal with sizeable year-to-year increases.
Members demonstrated their determination to get a fair contract not only by coming to negotiations in large numbers — at one session 80 members were in attendance — but also by making it clear in the workplace that they were not interested in working under a substandard wages or conditions, should those still be on the table when the new company took over.
“We had a great deal of support from everyone,” said Local 228 President Lori Lavigne. “They came and sat behind us. The company was very very nervous about that! The lead negotiator was so nervous he made a half-hour speech before we started! He felt intimidated by all the employees in the room! We all sat back with our feet up waiting on him to settle down so he could get back to negotiating with us.”
The final agreement includes an immediate wage increase of 16 percent, and significant increases in the second and third three years of the contract. As recently as 2016, National Visa Center workers were making as little as $11.84 per hour; now the lowest-paid workers will make over $16 per hour.
The contract also includes extra health and welfare money to offset increased health insurance costs. As the local union noted in the contract summary printed for members prior to ratification, “Health insurance costs will remain our biggest challenge during this contract. Nationally, premiums have been increasing by about five percent each year for the past decade. The average deductible is 2.5 times higher than it was 10 years ago… Until real change occurs on a national level, runaway insurance costs will continue to eat away our earnings at an ever-growing rate.” The local also won expanded rights to bargain over changes in medical coverage.
On non-economics, the local kept everything they had in their contract with the previous employer, and won some language changes. Union orientation for new hires will expand from 15 to 20 minutes, the bank of hours available for stewards to use to do union work on company time was increased by a third, and the union’s ability to grieve and arbitrate certain types of discipline and discharge was expanded. Workers now have the right to request interpretation services for both disciplinary investigations and disciplinary meetings, and will qualify for Family and Medical Leave Act coverage based on their cumulative years of service at NVC, not their years of service with the current contractor.
The negotiating committee consisted of President Lavigne, First Shift Chief Steward Bill Ladd, Second Shift Chief Steward Shane Tassinari, Vice President Anthony Comeau, Steward Diana Fuller, and Tony D'Iorio. They were assisted by International Representative Zachary Knipe.