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Victim Advocates on military bases get justice through IAM

The following is from the International Association of Machinists (IAM):

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD (April 7, 2013) — After a long and tenacious struggle, 13 Victim Advocates who work under a Service Contract at Joint Base Lewis McChord have gained a bit of justice. The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor has just finished its investigation and reached a settlement with their previous employer, Strategic Resources, Inc. (SRI), for a back pay settlement that could be well into the millions.

IAMIAM Western Territory Grand Lodge Representative Kevin Cummings and District W24 BR/Organizer Wayne Thompson have been working with this group of dedicated women for two years, and the initial employer — Strategic Resources, Inc. – has finally been forced to make partial amends for their actions. Cummings and Thompson had organized the group a year-and-a-half ago, but SRI refused to honor the certification, or the workers’ sacrifice.

“Victim Advocates are the first responders for Domestic Violence issues on military installations and a finer group of people is hard to find,” Thompson said. “It has truly been a pleasure to work with them.”

Cummings added, “This group has a tremendous dedication to their mission, they are on call 24/7, and are placed in heart-breaking and sometimes dangerous situations. They don’t complain. They just go out and help the families of our warriors who are in tough situations and truly need them. Our hearts went out to them, we had to help.”

SRI had refused to recognize the union, or rather, the NLRB’s authority to certify the first election in 2012 and refused to meet or bargain. Multiple Unfair Labor Practice charges were filed. The NLRB is continuing their battle with the company over its behavior. During the process, Cummings and Thompson became aware of some pay practices that just seemed wrong, and apparently illegal. They guided the employees at JBLM through the complaint process and urged the DOL to look at SRI worldwide.

After an 18-month investigation, on April 2, the Victim Advocates, now employed by Armed Forces Services Company (AFSC), are being notified of a settlement agreement between the DOL and SRI. Each employee is receiving back pay for wages and benefits denied them by SRI in violation of wage and hours laws. Employees will be receiving their checks by Friday, April 25. Most of the back pay awards are between $10,000 and $15,000. That in and of itself is a win, but the DOL did expand the investigation and DOL has stated that the settlement is for SRI Victim Advocates worldwide. With nearly 200 employees involved it will likely exceed $2,500,000.

When the group first turned to the IAM, they were being paid $14.40 per hour, and were not getting overtime for the late night calls to the crisis line, where they sometimes have to go and get the victim to the hospital or find them safe shelter. Victim Advocates working for counties, or the federal government, were making twice the amount in many cases. That is where the work began.

The IAM contacted the Department of the Army, and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), both members of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, and raised the concerns about misclassification and compensation issues. It took nearly a year, but last year the U.S. Army adjusted the area wage determination for the group to $24.26, and that is above and beyond the W&D settlement.

Not only did these workers get the raise, but the U.S. Army created a new AWD for this classification that increased the pay for all Victim Advocates under this SCA — a total of 25 military bases, and there are nearly 200 of them today, all enjoying the increased pay as a result of the IAM stepping in to help. Ultimately, SRI lost the Service Contract with the government after their bad behavior was exposed to everyone from Command at JBLM, to the Pentagon, to the U.S. Congress.

Just last month, a second election was held and the Victim Advocates voted overwhelmingly to join the IAM. The new employer, AFSC, has been very receptive and respectful to both the workers and the union since certification last month and progress is being made towards getting a Collective Bargaining Agreement in place.

“We are really pleased that there is finally some compensation for all the pain and abuse these sisters went through,” Cummings said. “Wayne and I are very proud to have been a part of bringing justice to this issue. The group never gave up, and neither did the IAM. When we stand together, we win!”

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