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Agents of Prudential Insurance Company of America in 34 states have voted overwhelmingly to join an office workers union.

An official of the National Labor Relations Board office in Newark, N.J., says 80% of almost 800 votes cast in the election were in favor of joining Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153, based in New York. Balloting was completed April 20.

Of the 964 eligible voters, 617 voted in favor of the union and 151 voted against. Prudential challenged 15 of the ballots and the remainder cast no vote, according to Edward Peterson, assistant director of the NLRBs Newark office.

Although Prudential has 7 days to object to the balloting, spokeswoman Karen Howell says the company told agents to “vote their conscience” and that it intends to negotiate in good faith with the union.

The voting only included agents who are directly employed by Prudential.

The election was the second union balloting held among Prudential agents and came after 2 years of legal wrangling.

In 2002, an administrative law judge ruled in favor of a union objection that Prudential had illegally banned e-mail messages expressing support for the union. The union had lodged that objection after it lost the election earlier that year by 64 votes, according to Kevin Kistler, director of organization and field services for OPEIU.

Prudential appealed that decision to the NLRB, but before the board could rule, the union withdrew its objection and called for a new vote.

The issue of e-mail did not arise the second time because neither side used Prudentials internal e-mail system to campaign for or against the union, says Kistler.

Kistler says Prudential agents turned to the union because many thought that as Prudential introduced new products, compensation arrangements were less favorable than they had been in past while the company increased quotas annually.

“They wanted a chance to sit in on the bargaining table and address compensation formulas.”

In response, Prudentials Howell says the company “is dedicated to building a strong competitive organization that benefits its customers, shareholders, employees and professional sales force, and our goal is to be the career distribution leader in the industry.”

OPEIU International president Michael Goodwin notes insurance agents are not traditionally thought of as unionized workers.

“Were breaking new ground here and are now looking forward to negotiating a contract with Prudential that best represents our members interests,” Goodwin says.

The new unit will represent Prudential employees in Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia, as well as in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Phoenix, Arizona, and Prescott, Arizona.

OPEIU tried to organize agents of Allstate Insurance Company 2 years ago, but the NLRB ruled Allstates 10,000 agents were independent contractors, not employees, and were therefore not eligible for union membership, according to Kistler. Allstate converted its career agent force to independent contractors in 2001.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, April 23, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.