February 1, 2008: For the second day in a row, employees of a contractor of Stanley Associates at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Center have voted to join UE. Despite bad weather, workers employed by Northrup Grumman Technical Services Inc. traveled to NLRB polling places in St. Albans and Essex and voted 57-40 to become members of UE.

This victory came just a day after workers employed by Choctaw Archiving chose UE by 51 to 31. These are two of eight elections that will take place in the coming weeks among nearly a thousand workers in Vermont and California whose wages and working conditions came under attack when a new federal contractor, Stanley, and its subcontractors took over their workplaces.

Scheduled next is a February 27 vote by Choctaw workers in California. The union is awaiting voting dates for four additional units.

“This is not about the company,” said Lisa Stenta, a Grumman employee who has worked at the service center for nine years, surviving three different contractors. “It’s not about who the contractor is. It’s about us taking charge of our future.” She spoke of women forced to work 16-hour shifts with mandatory overtime. “We deserve better than that. We’re dedicated workers.” She said past union organizing drives had failed, and nothing changed after the election, so this time workers weren’t taking chances. “I feel great” about the outcome, she said.

Kelly Levick is employed by Choctaw Archiving, the group who voted to join UE one day earlier. “I’m very excited aboout our victory and the Northrop victory,” she said. Kelly, with eight years on the job, attributes the workers’ win to “a lot of hard work. We all pulled together and pulled it off.”

Jeremy Murray works directly for Stankey, the lead contractor at the Vermont service center. His bargaining unit of approximately 150 people is still waiting for the NLRB to set their voting date. But the divisions the bosses have set up between employees under the different contractors don’t really mean anything to the workers. “It’s all about the group — we all help each other,” Jeremy said, and UE supporters are working together to bring everyone into the union. “We don’t want to leave anyone behind. This will give us so much strength.” 

The campaign has been followed closely by the local and this week the local newspaper, the St. Albans Messenger, endorsed the union campaign in an editorial. Earlier, the  Vermont Workers’ Center has helped coordinate community support, including coordinating a letter signed by over two dozen community leaders, including U.S. Sen.Bernie Sanders, I-VT. [Click here for yesterday’s Messenger story, refers to VWC & Hotline]

Five subsequent elections will decide how many additional workers in Vermont and California will be included when UE begins bargaining for improvements in wages and conditions. All the workers performed services for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), which contracts with each employer for data entry and clerical work. Stanley and Associates acts as the lead contractor for the group.

A $2 an hour wage cut imposed by Stanley when it took over operations in early December sparked the organizing drive, bringing workers together to defend their wages as well as sudden cuts in their sick and personal days and vacation time. A top Stanley executive’s comment about the cuts was reportedly, “Get Over It!” — a comment which inspired one campaign slogan, “We’re UE. GET OVER IT!”

In all, more than 1,000 workers, mostly women, are employed at the two service centers in St. Albans, VT, and Laguna Niguel, CA. Stay tuned for updates on upcoming elections in Vermont and ways to help out.