Sanders Rallies Stanley Workers (WCAX News)

Brian Joyce - WCAX News, Vermont

St. Albans, Vermont - Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, got a rousing welcome from the 60 Stanley employees who turned out for a pro-union rally in St. Albans.

"These guys get rich by knocking your wages down," he told them.

The workers are some of the 400 employees who process immigration applications for the federal government. It's government work but the processing is contracted to a private company-- in this case to the Stanley corporation that won the new contract in December. Stanley immediately cut the pay and benefits for about half of the employees. That triggered the union drive by employees who claim the pay cuts are unfair and left them struggling.

"I could not pay my heating bill in December. And I've been told by the utility company I'd better, or else," said pro-union worker Jacki Hayes.

"70 dollar a week pay cut. Can't pay all my bills. I juggled them!" said another pro-union worker, Norma Thibault.

Pam L'Esperance says the comment of a top Stanley executive soon after the takeover convinced her a union was now essential and she created a pro-union button in response.

"The first words out of his mouth was about the wages, 'Get Over it!' And I wish we all would've walked up and you know gone out of the room at that time because it was like a slap in the face," said L'Esperance.

A vote has been tentatively scheduled in three weeks that will determine if the employees will form a union or not.

The employees say the looming vote has triggered increased efforts by Stanley to divide and conquer and bust the union drive.

"There's lots of stress, you'll hear people like when you walk by they'll whisper, they'll tear 'em down," said Thibault.

"They're going to lie to you, have they brought you into the back rooms yet? They will!" Sanders told the crowd. "Have you seen the video tapes yet? You will!"

The Senator's pep talk clearly inspired these employees and we'll know early next month if their enthusiasm will lead to a union.

Our calls to Stanley on Monday for a response were not returned.