Vote to Decide Union Formation at Port of Brownsville Business

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BROWNSVILLE – A vote is scheduled to take place Wednesday that will determine if a union will be formed at a Port of Brownsville company, Keppel AmFELS.

Keppel AmFELS is a company that provides offshore and marine services to customers operating in the Gulf of Mexico.

Employees of Keppel AmFELS have the option to vote to unionize.

A few months ago, some approached South West Pipe Trades, a union affiliated with the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada.

Much of work is labor-intensive, as one pipefitter employee, Alex Chavez, explained, "It's tough work moving a pipe, it can be 8 feet long, 10 feet long, and weighes as much from 100 to 800 pounds, and a three or four man crew if it has to be.”

He says he works at night and hopes a union can help negotiate for more lighting.

Safety is a concern, too. A records search of the company's 30-year litigation history showed multiple lawsuits.

An employee who received serious injury on the job sued in 2014.

A woman who claims she was fired a day after returning from maternity leave filed suit in 2010.

And, in 2007, the family of a deceased employee filed for wrongful death.

Some of the cases were settled, dismissed, or remanded to a lower court.

The union's lead organizer, Chad Tomlin, explained they had to get enough engagement with the 800 employees to allow for the vote to happen.

"These workers started reaching out to us every time we come here and we had to sign authorization cards to represent them. In that process, you have to have a 30% interest out of these 800 workers here and we did that by getting 247 cards signed," says Tomlin.

Tomlin tells us the dues are about $30 a month and they are prepared to help with contract negotiations and legal representation.

If employees decide to form the union, Tomlin says this would be the largest company they would represent.

President of Keppel AmFELS Simon Lee did not return a request for comment on this story.

A decision will be made with a 50% plus one vote.


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