(Dec. 11) -- Security officers at a Nevada military base that is one of the most classified in the world have walked off the job in a dispute over wages. The workers are able to talk about their labor dispute, but they can't say anything about where they work. It's a place that, for many years, didn't officially exist: Area 51.
Las Vegas has seen it's share of strikes, but nothing like this. Employees walking the picket lines can't even say where they work, but it's no mystery anymore. The strike by the security officers couldn't come at a worse time, because top secret Area 51, like other military installations, is on a state of high alert due to possible terrorist threats.
Security at Nevada's most infamous secret base has always been tight. And justifiably so. Area 51, or Groom Lake, has always been the location of choice for the development of ultra-classified military technologies such as the U-2, SR 71, Stealth fighter, and others. In the late '80s, news stories about strange objects over Groom Lake generated an unending stampede among UFO enthusiasts.
The controversy has attracted tens of thousands of visitors to Area 51, resulting in ever-stronger security measures and non-stop challenges for the mystery men who keep the unauthorized out. Over the years, the omnipresent security forces have earned the nickname the "cammo dudes," derived from their camouflage uniforms. All we knew about them was that they are tough, smart and thorough. Now we also know they are on strike.
"It's a very interesting job. A lot of us enjoy it. If we didn't, we wouldn't be there," Vernell Hall, the union president said.
But they aren't there, wherever there is. Not now anyway. Instead, members of the once-secretive security police association are conspicuously walking the picket lines. One is set up at a nondescript airfield near McCarran International Airport. It's from there that Area 51 workers are flown on unmarked planes to the secret base.
More pickets are stationed at the headquarters of EG&G Technical services. EG&G is a multi-billion dollar company which has managed Area 51 since the base was built in the 1950s. The workers say the company is a skinflint about pay, that it won't even meet the minimum of $16 an hour guaranteed by the Department of Labor, and that each of the union's 70 members are working way too much overtime to make up for persistent personnel shortages
Although they decline to say where they work, it's easy to surmise that, since Sept. 11, their job has been even more intense, with stricter searches of everyone entering the once nonexistent location. Most of the picketers are ex-military or ex-law enforcement and say they are proud of the job they have, but within limits.
"Our head steward has a saying, within a year or two, we'll come to work for the company and will have to hand them a check to work. We're trying to get our pay where it should be," Hall said.
The workers say they took the action after three months of negotiations failed to make progress. They vow to stay on the picket line until they get the pay they were promised. EG&G will only say that talks are continuing.
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