[published in the St. Albans Messenger, Saturday, Feb 16th in support of workers forming a union at Stanley Inc, a federal contractor at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service center in St. Albans]

By James Haslam

Since 1998, the Vermont Workers’ Center has operated a free informational service called the Vermont Workers Rights Hotline. During that time we have learned how hard it is for non-union workers in this state. “At-will” employment means lots of workers lose their jobs every day for no reason. Non-union workers also suffer from unpaid wages, unfair treatment, sudden schedule changes and arbitrary reductions in benefits.

During the past decade, the largest single source of workers rights hotline calls has been Vermont Service Center in St. Albans. When it was Labatt- Anderson we got lots of calls. When it changed over to SCOT, there was even more calls. And now, with Stanley, the calls have increased even further. In the past, workers have called about forced mandatory overtime, unfair firings and discipline, and poor treatment. Hotline callers from the VWC have also talked about the lack of raises, the wage re-classifications, and the loss of personal and sick time. Most recently, VSC workers have called the hotline to ask for the truth about the misinformation Stanley management is distributing in the work place.

We’ve done some research about the questions we’ve been asked more frequently. Here is the truth about some of the myths about forming a union at Stanley.

Myth #1: Only the Department of Labor (DOL) can do anything about wage increases.

Truth: There currently is a DOL investigation into possible job misclassifications under the previous contractors commonly referred to as SCOT. If the DOL rules that workers were misclassified, then some employees may get some back pay from the former contractors. Stanley is not a subject of this investigation. Stanley will not have to pay because of this investigation.

VSC workers can only get pay back from Stanley if a new investigation is initiated but this could take months or years to happen. The only other way VSC workers can get a higher rate pay through the DOL is if the DOL raised the job classification rates. The last time this happened was 4 years ago.

By forming a union and having the ability to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement workers will not only be able to change these wrongful misclassifications of job titles but will also finally have the ability to negotiate raises. Most importantly, if there was a union when Stanley took over they would not have been able to unilaterally cut peoples wages and change their job titles.

Finally, under the Service Contract Act, employers can submit additional wage costs which occur because of contract negotiations to the federal government for reimbursement. So Stanley workers could get a raise and the federal government could pay for it.

Myth #2: When people have unions you have to pay union dues and the dues will negate any wage increase.

Truth: Yes, part of having a union is paying union dues, but no one pays any dues until there is a collective bargaining agreement (contract) has been reached and ratified by all the workers. Workers are not stupid, they would not negotiate a contract with tiny raises that would be smaller than union dues. Studies have shown that when workers have the ability to collectively bargain wages and benefits, they do much better than when it is solely management that determines what the wages and benefits will be. In the US, union members make about 30% more than their non-union counterparts. Today, union workers on average make $5 more an hour than non-union workers. Union dues are a small price to pay for livable wages, job security and decent benefits.

Myth #3:If Stanley workers vote to form a union then they will no longer have access to Stanley’s 4O1K – retirement plan.

Truth:It would be illegal for Stanley to take away any of Stanley’s employees’ retirement benefits because they form a union. Federal labor law prohibits companies from taking away any existing benefits because workers unionize. In fact, the only way to insure that nothing is arbitrarily taken away is to form a union and put everything into a legally binding contract.

From a workers’ rights perspective the choice of having a union at Stanley is clear. It is really important for workers to have a union contract to make sure that no matter what contractor is acting as the employer, there is a fair agreement that ensures decent wages and provides workers with protection. It is not only important for the people who work at the VSC but for everyone in the community. When Stanley executives cut wages, they are essentially taking thousands of dollars out of community and putting it into their Virginia bank accounts. They are trying to make a profit at their employees’ expense. If Stanley workers want fairness and respect, then the way to get it is by forming a union.

James Haslam is the Director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, a membership organization of Vermonters based in Burlington and is committed to fighting for workers’ rights and economic justice. There website is www.workerscenter.org and the Vermont Workers’ Rights Hotline is toll-free 866-229-0009.