ST. ALBANS — United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and a contractor, Sciolex, have relocated positions from the facility on Lower Welden Street to an alternate building in Essex Junction “for the foreseeable future” due to the facility flooding in December, according to government officials.
In addition, the local union for those position says the 200-plus affected employees must report to the new location or potentially lose their jobs.
But USCIS hasn’t heard the last of the issue from St. Albans City Mayor Tim Smith.
“We’re not going to give up that easily,” Smith said. “I have a call into [Sen. Patrick Leahy]’s office today, so we’ll see how that conversation goes.”
In a statement Sunday from the union UE Local 208, part of the national United Electrical, Machine, and Radio Workers of America, hundreds of employees were asked to relocate from their place of work in St. Albans to another facility in Essex Junction while repairs were being made at the “Tabor” facility at 75 Lower Welden St. in St. Albans.
The union statement said a notification from “management” on Jan. 29 notified employees that the Essex Junction location would become the new permanent location for those previously relocated because of flooding damage, and that employees were ordered to report to their new post by Feb. 4 or “face potential termination.”
“To this day, management has refused to refer to these events as a layoff and are refusing to abide by the language related to layoff and recalls located in the contract that was mutually agreed upon between USCIS’ contractor, Sciolex, and the union,” the statement from UE 208 reads.
As of 3 p.m. on Monday, requests to the union for copies of communication from USCIS and Sciolex to workers went unanswered.
Paul R. Hughes, regional public affairs officer of the New England Region Office of Strategic Communication (OSC), confirmed that the Tabor facility in St. Albans experienced flood damage because of a broken waterline, and in an email also confirmed that “The building is in the process of being remediated from this event and repairs are underway.”
But since the workers were relocated, union representatives on both a local and national level have been trying to find out when the employees — some of whom were unable to relocate to Essex Junction — will be allowed to return to work in St. Albans.
“Due to the facilities issue at the Tabor Building, USCIS has relocated critical functions to other Vermont Service Center (VSC) facilities in Essex and St. Albans,” wrote Paula Grenier, public affairs officer for the USCIS. “Additional staff and functions have moved to alternate USCIS facilities in northern Vermont. Federal employees of the VSC are primarily teleworking full-time as a result of the COVID pandemic and those employees continue to telework during the building closure.”
In a statement submitted to the Messenger, the UE 208 expressed concern for the harm the relocation of jobs could mean for the city’s economy and the affected employees, as some of the employees were unable to make the commute to the new location.
“The hardships placed on these employees as well as the potential permanent movement of so many well-paying jobs out of Franklin County is troubling,” the statement reads. “The members of Local 208 do not know whether their employment will return to Franklin County. In the meantime Saint Albans and Franklin County have lost good paying jobs as well as the business influx brought by the workers who eat at local restaurants and run their errands before and after work at local businesses.”
“It would be a huge loss to the city and Franklin County,” Smith said of the possibility of the jobs not returning. “There’s 17 towns in Franklin County, and most of those towns have residents who work in immigration. So we will have those discussions and see how that goes.”
Marty Manahan, Public Works director for the City of St. Albans, said he thought the broken lines had been repaired, but he has not been inside the building since the flood took place.
In an away message recorded by Pam Fontaine, director of Ys Time early childhood development center, their location has also been “currently, temporarily” moved from the Tabor building to 142 South Main St. Representatives at their new location declined to comment on the status of the situation.
The away message was still in effect on Monday, Feb. 8.