Workers say 'no' to union

Unfair labor practice charges may nix vote

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2001

Austin Industrial employees building BP's experimental gas-to-liquids plant in Nikiski voted 51-40 to reject a unionization bid by the Western Alaska Building Trades Council, union officials said.

A total of 99 Austin Industrial employees cast ballots during Friday's election at the job site in Nikiski, said Bob Buch, an organizer for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 367, one of 17 unions represented by the Western Alaska Building Trades Council. There were eight challenged ballots, he said, but even eight more pro-union votes would not have been enough to change the outcome.

"It was really close," Buch said. "I doubt very much if this is all over with."

The Western Alaska Building Trades Council organized the unionization campaign. Vince Beltrami, its president, said the company often has the advantage over unionizers, and that may have been the case in Nikiski.

"There's been a lot of campaigning going on with the company," he said.

"They've held a lot of captive-audience meetings with the guys."

Even so, the 40 votes evidenced considerable support for the unions, he said.

Beltrami said the battle is not over. The unions have seven days from Friday to file election objections with the National Labor Relations Board.

The unions will consider Monday whether to file objections, he said.

The unions already have filed five allegations of unfair labor practices (ULPs) they believe adversely affected the outcome of the election, Beltrami said.

"The most severe was the mass layoff of 12 guys. Ten of those guys were wearing union stickers and were obviously supporters of the unions. We believe that was absolutely an intent to get rid of the union supporters. It has the impact possibly scaring away some of the other voters for fear that may happen to them," Beltrami said. "In the best-case scenario, if (the National Labor Relations Board) finds all of our ULPs have merit. they could overrule the election and force Austin Industrial to sit down and negotiate with us."

Beltrami also alleged that in the last few weeks, Austin Industrial imported a "a couple dozen" workers from Texas whose votes may have altered the outcome of the election.

Joe McKee, vice president of field operations for Austin Industrial, had just returned from Alaska on Friday and was taking the day off work in Houston. He could not be reached to comment on the election. Last month, he declined to comment to the Clarion on why the dozen workers were laid off.

"I'm not going to respond to any accusations. I don't want to get into a debate in the newspaper," he said then.

Late last month, McKee said there were about 150 employees on the job, and about 18 from outside Alaska. Union organizers took an informal count and came up with 23 non-Alaskans.

"It's a pretty low number, I would say," McKee said. "There are some craft shortages that we've been unable to fill completely (with local hire)."

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