May 22, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – After more than six months of trying to get their first union contract, workers at Allstate Power Vac in Brooklyn voted unanimously May 19 to authorize a strike.
“It is unacceptable that workers are risking their lives and maintaining this essential infrastructure for near minimum-wage salaries,” Teamsters Local 813 President Sean Campbell said in a statement announcing the vote. “Allstate Power Vac and Con Edison are not taking these workers demands for fair pay and respect seriously. A strike is always a last resort, but we are ready to walk out if these workers do not get a fair contact and the respect they deserve.”
Part of the union’s strategy is to put pressure on Con Ed, which provides a large part of Allstate’s business. Allstate is a key subcontractor for the utility, the union says, as its workers clean up underground electrical infrastructure such as power lines and transformers before they are maintained. A strike, it adds, “would bring many Con Ed projects to a standstill.”
“We’re definitely asking Con Ed to step in and make it clear to Allstate that they should give a fair contract,” says a Teamsters Joint Council 16 spokesperson. The company’s about 75 employees, who voted last November to join Local 813 “work side by side with Con Ed workers, but for much lower pay.”
Local 813 officials delivered a petition to Con Ed’s board of directors May 16, asking them to tell Allstate to “negotiate a fair contract with industry standard pay rates and working conditions.”
“It says ‘Allstate Power Vac’ on our paychecks, but we know that Con Ed would not be able to operate without our work,” Reginald Riddick, one of the 60 workers at the company’s Brooklyn facility, said in the Teamsters statement. “The time for patience is over. Allstate Power Vac has committed unfair labor practices, and Con Ed has turned a blind eye. These companies need to respect the workers on the front lines and give all utility workers a fair wage.”
The union has filed three unfair labor practice charges against Allstate with the National Labor Relations Board. One, filed May 2, alleges that the company “failed and refused to bargain in good faith.” Another, filed April 29, charges that it “tried to go around the union representatives to negotiate a wage increase with one worker” and demoted another “because of his vocal support for the union,” leading to his “constructive discharge”—a legal term for making his life so miserable he quit.
Local 813 has not set a date for the potential strike, but says the vote “gives union leadership the power to stop work at a moment’s notice.”