Five years after the first attempt to organize labor at Nabors Drilling ended in a lawsuit against the company, Nabors employees voted Tuesday to unionize.
A close vote, 146 to 122 in favor of unionizing, brought the employees into the fold of organized labor. Tim Sharp, of Laborers Local 942, called it "a real victory for all Alaskan oil field workers" in a press release distributed Wednes-day.
Blake Johnson, the business agent for Laborers Local 341 of the Alaska State District Council of Laborers, called the vote "an opening up of union benefits to a lot more people on the peninsula."
Johnson also works for the Kenai Peninsula Central Labor Council.
Nabors employees first attempted to organize in 1995, but lacked the votes to join a union. The original measure was defeated by a 3-to-1 margin, according to the press release.
The Alaska State District Council of Laborers then filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., against Nabors, claiming it had violated the National Labor Relations Act, Sharp said. The union charged that Nabors intimidated and interrogated workers by demanding to know how they would vote and threatening to fire them if they voted in favor of unionizing, Sharp said.
Other charges included the illegal firing of pro-union Nabors employee Mike Pearson and denying the union fair access to workers to discuss unionization.
The case dragged out for five years, as Nabors appealed numerous decisions. Recently the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided in favor of the union, and the National Labor Relations Board scheduled Tuesday's election. It also ordered Nabors to post pledges to workers that it would not repeat its violations.
Sharp said workers sought to organize because of lagging medical benefits, overdue wage increases and insufficient pension plans. Nabors has increased wages over the last few years, by $4 an hour, according to Sharp, who said the raise did not compensate for the heavy wage cuts oil workers suffered in the 1980s.
"It seems there has not been a great amount of wage increases in the non-union oilfield recently," he said.
The unionizing of Nabors employees, who number 570 in the state and who work in Prudhoe Bay as well as on platforms in Cook Inlet, may account for the recent increase in wages oil workers in some non-union companies have received, Sharp suggested. He said companies will raise wages to deter employees from seeking unionization.
Johnson said retired union members currently collect $13 to $14 million dollars a month in pensions.
Sharp said he expects the bargaining process with Nabors management to be short and successful.
"If the company is serious about bargaining in good faith, it shouldn't take long," for the union and the company to reach an agreement on benefits, wages and the pension plan, Sharp said.
"The issues are very simple," he said.
Johnson said he anticipates amicable relationships with more oil companies and their workers on the peninsula.
"We're looking forward to working with the other companies (here) who might want to organize," he said.
Johnson said the vote affects 60 to 70 workers on the Kenai Peninsula. Nabors employees will vote on whether they will join the Alaska State District Council of Laborers or a separate organization. Those working in Cook Inlet would become members of Local 341 if the employees vote to join the Laborers; those in Prudhoe Bay would belong to Local 942.
Nabors personnel administrators did not return several phone calls.
The vote does not affect management personnel, who cannot belong to the same union as workers. Supervisory or management positions must have separate unions, if employees in those capacities wish to unionize.
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