On October 31, members of UE Local 728 ratified a new two-year agreement with their employer, federal contractor LDRM LLC, several days after members voted down the company’s “last, best and final” offer, and one day before a strike deadline set by the local.
The four hundred bargaining unit employees represented by Local 728 work at the U.S. State Department’s Kentucky Consular Center (KCC), where they provide critical support to the nation’s non-immigrant visa process. They initially formed a union in 2020, in part due to receiving lower wages than federal employees despite doing similar confidential and globally important government work, including clerical work and research that detects human trafficking and immigration fraud. This is their second contract.
Local 728 members packing the room on the opening day of negotiations.
Negotiations started out smoothly with a full week of in-person open bargaining. Rank-and-file members could attend negotiations around their work schedule, and more than 80 put pressure on the company by showing up with various union paraphernalia. “We prepared signs and buttons galore. Creepy snake shirts were worn!” said bargaining committee member Christina Brookman.
Local 728 member Brittany White said, “the whole time the committee was bargaining, I was holding up my sign behind them and giving management the mean mug.” Brittany made dozens of the buttons worn by other members. Union members’ family and friends also showed up in support. The union won significant improvements during this week, including protections for telework, elimination of the employee handbook policy for attendance, increased paid bereavement from three to five days, additional months of recall from layoffs, and paid lactation breaks.
Local 728 members display their “creepy snake shirts” at an October 27 rally for a fair contract.
Despite these tremendous strides, a deal could not be reached by the end of the week, with the union and the company remaining far apart on wages. Following the in-person bargaining sessions, Local 728 made themselves available for bargaining over Zoom several days prior to contract expiration. However, LDRM abruptly gave the union a “last, best, and final offer” on October 24 that did not meet members' expectations. Members responded by making calls to mobilize more of their co-workers for escalating actions, including a “work-in” where they doubled their physical presence at the Kentucky Consular Center, a rally with more than 100 members and supporters across the street from their in-person worksite, and overwhelmingly voting down the offer after hearing it in its entirety at their October 28 membership meeting. “The Contract Action Team (CAT) organized the rally to show the Company we were ready to go on strike if an agreement could not be reached,” said Financial Secretary Melissa Hamblin. Sergeant-at-Arms Ashley Perkins taught the members the UE chant and borrowed a party speaker so loud that SPFA Local 646 (the guards at the KCC) reported their bosses could hear the union rocking out from indoors across the busy road.
Tensions mounted as the strike date of November 1 approached, with the CAT engaging the membership to source rides, food, and heat for the potential picket line on a day when record cold temperatures were predicted. On October 30, LDRM contacted the union with an offer that included all previously negotiated gains plus an additional week of vacation for members with more than twenty years of service and 11–18 percent raises over the life of the two-year contract.
“I, along with the majority of our members, feel like this is a great contract,” said Local 728 President Kevin White. “We didn’t take a loss on a single thing, made gains greater than some unions who had to go on strike, and it was all possible because our members came together to form a credible threat.”
The Local 728 negotiation committee consisted of White, Vice President Caroline Gambrel, Chief Steward Cindy Borum, Recording Secretary Jerred Harris, Christina Brookman, Brian Bradley, Stephen Lindsay, Financial Secretary Melissa Hamblin and Sergeant-at-Arms Ashley Perkins. They were assisted by International Representative Zachary Knipe and Field Organizer Heather Hillenbrand.