The Electrical Worker online
April 2014

Southern Solidarity:
Miss. NASA Professionals
Unanimously Vote IBEW
index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to

It's not every day that a group of workers votes unanimously to organize — especially in a right-to-work state like Mississippi.

But that's exactly what happened Feb. 5, when 20 employees at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Picayune, near the Louisiana border, became the newest members of Pascagoula Local 733.

"It was a great campaign," Region 5 Lead Organizer Jimmy Flynn said. "In Mississippi, you don't see a drive like this very often. But these employees were also one of the only unorganized groups at Stennis, so they had an idea of what they could expect going into the campaign."

The workers include laboratory technicians, engineering technicians, system operators and others. They build and maintain devices that monitor sea level, weather and environmental conditions in and around the Gulf Coast for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Such duties fall under the Service Contract Act, a law that mandates Department of Labor wage requirements for government workers. In other words, the act applies to employees of federal contractors in the way that prevailing wage applies to construction workers.

Under the Stennis workers' previous employer, wages and benefits had been generous, Flynn said.

But when Allegiance Consulting, Inc. submitted a winning government contract bid to take over management of the Stennis workers late last year, problems began, Flynn said.

"Allegiance immediately cut everyone's wages and benefits back to the bare minimum allowed by the Department of Labor," Flynn said. That meant about a $6 an hour pay cut for many employees, who also now had to pay more for their health insurance.

"They discussed organizing and started researching many unions in their area," ultimately reaching out to Local 733 because of its professionalism, Flynn said. The local represents hundreds of workers at Ingalls and Avondale Shipyards, among other employers.

"The workers came to realize that they had been taking for granted their previous employer's good relationship," Flynn said. "They wanted to do whatever they could to make sure they protected their wages and benefits."

It's often a long, protracted process to net an organizing win in the South, where anti-union laws and employee intimidation are rampant. But in less than a month and a half, the Allegiance employees had gone from their first contact with an organizer to establishing a volunteer organizing committee and winning their election.

"These employees were goal oriented, intelligent and very close knit," Flynn said. "In terms of mental preparedness, they were essentially already a union workforce." On the day of the NLRB-certified vote, there was no worker who was willing to be an observer for the company, Flynn said.

"The spirit and tenacity of these employees goes to show that it is possible to counter the strident and backward attitudes of so many anti-worker lawmakers and companies in the South," said IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill. "If workers in Mississippi who are looking for a voice on the job could see what these 20 professionals at Stennis did, organizing in the area might start to look very different."

Mississippi has one of the lowest union density rates in the nation, at 3.7 percent.

To read more about how right-to-work laws are impacting jobs, wages and quality of life, see "Mo. IBEW Activists Fight Right-to-Work Push" in last month's Electrical Worker.



Twenty technicians at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Picayune, Miss. voted unanimously to join Pascagoula Local 733.

Photo credits: Photos used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user nasamarshall.