AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Local labor union officials say they might be forced to take action if the Air Force doesn’t reverse a recent decision affecting a handful of Italian workers at the base.

The issue started with a reorganization in the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron, when three of five Italians who perform the same job with the unit were promoted.

The unions argued that all five should have been eligible for the promotion, which carried a monthly pay increase of more than 450 euros.

The base agreed to let all five try for the promotion and two reportedly failed English-proficiency tests.

Although most Italian workers on U.S. bases speak at least some English, that ability isn’t included in any of their contracts, union leaders said.

But that’s not the union officials’ chief concern, says Eugenio Sabelli, who represents the Italian Confederation of Trades’ Unions (CISL), one of two labor unions that represent Italian workers on U.S. military bases in Italy.

The real issue is that an Air Force official from Ramstein Air Base in Germany nullified a pact that the unions reached with Aviano regarding the promotion of the workers.

Sabelli, along with Union of Italian Labor (UIL) leader Giovanni Iandolo say they don’t feel that Robert Maier, chief of civilian personnel for U.S. Air Forces in Europe, can unilaterally veto an agreement made between the unions and Aviano.

They argue that if someone at USAFE headquarters has issues with the agreement, he needs to take it up with the union headquarters in Rome.

USAFE officials denied a Stars and Stripes’ request to interview Maier or an appropriate representative.

But in a statement, USAFE officials said Maier acted properly in killing the deal.

Maier has been delegated authority over all labor-relation programs in USAFE, according to the USAFE statement.

He “acted appropriately in nullifying the agreement, because it was improperly executed,” the statement read.

Basically, according to Senior Master Sgt. Kelly Mazezka, a USAFE public affairs officer, base officials at Aviano weren’t certified to make any agreements with Italian unions.

But Iandolo and Sabelli disagreed, saying if no one on base is qualified to make an agreement with them, any local talks are useless.

“If Mr. Maier is the one who decides, there’s no point in sitting down with the base,” Iandolo said.

Allowing one side to unilaterally take such actions sets a precedent and could allow USAFE to go after other things, he said. Iandolo said the union has to stand up for its principles.

“If the problem isn’t resolved, maybe we could go on strike,” he said. “It is possible to go to court, too.”

Valentina Lehman provided translation for this report.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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