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Immigration workers eye unionization

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Associated Press / January 24, 2008

ST. ALBANS, Vt. - Hundreds of contract employees for US Citizenship and Immigration Services are going to hold union votes in the coming weeks.

Since Stanley Inc. became the contractor for Citizenship and Immigration Services last month and hired three subcontractors, 360 of 400 immigration workers have filed to join the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, said Kimberly Lawson, a union representative.

Last month, Stanley, based in Arlington, Va., began a three-year, $225 million contract to operate immigration facilities in Vermont and California. No petitions have been filed to form a union at the California facility, said Eric Wolking, Stanley vice president.

When it took over, Stanley reclassified about 100 of its 400 St. Albans employees from general clerk to data entry, which reduced base pay for those employees 11.7 percent to $26,707. An incentive plan allows some workers to recover lost pay, but workers remain discontented.

Kathy Persons, 49, of Alburgh works for one of Stanley's contractors. Her salary fell from $14.54 to $12.84 an hour. "I planned to have a career with them . . . but now I feel like I'm not worth anything," Persons said.

Employees for Stanley and its contractors open the mail and handle initial processing of citizenship and other applications at the Citizenship and Immigration Services centers in St. Albans and Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Wolking said that if the union drive succeeded, it would be the first union among its 3,500 workers.

"We've never faced an effort like this before. . . . There is no doubt we got off on the wrong foot," he said.

Separate votes will be held for Stanley and each of its three subcontractors. Two votes are set for Jan. 31 and another Feb. 1. The fourth vote has not been set.

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