NU Online News Service, Aug. 17, 2:32 p.m.EDT

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Members of the National Association of Professional AllstateAgents approved to affiliate with the Office and ProfessionalEmployees International Union by an overwhelming majority in aneffort to have more say over the future of their agencies.

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OPEIU, a member of the AFL-CIO, says 94 percent of the 1,200NAPAA members, voting by secret ballot, approved theaffiliation.

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“Our members have sent a message and we hear them loud andclear,” says Jim Fish, NAPAA executive director in a statement.“Now we will work closely with OPEIU to finalize an affiliationthat establishes NAPAA as a guild.”

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He says the vote is the first step toward ensuring that Allstateagents are treated as “true independent contractors instead ofemployees.”

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“Currently, agents are subjected to unachievable quotas, thespecter of reduced compensation and an ever-present threat ofcontract termination,” says Fish. “Many companies today arecircumventing IRS precepts regarding employee status and are nowclassifying these same people as independent contractors. Thispractice has to stop.”

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Adds OPEIU International President Michael Goodwin, “This is amatter of defending the interests of ill-treated small businessowners, and NAPAA members have recognized that OPEIU is the rightorganization to help them achieve the benefits and protections theydeserve.”

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“With the insurance industry being highly regulated at the statelevel, NAPAA will soon be able to offer legislative access andlegal support to questionable compliance issues, faced by bothagents and customers alike,” he adds.

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Becoming a part of the OPEIU is still subject to approval by theNAPAA board.

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For its part, Allstate dismissed the vote, saying that itrepresents only a minor number of its agent force.

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“This group's indication that it will seek a vote from itsmembers to affiliate with the OPEIU would seem to be an internalissue for them,” says a statement from Allstate. “Their membersinclude only a small number of Allstate's current agencyowners.”

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The acrimony between the agents and Allstate was reignited earlier this year when the company said it wouldreduce agent's commissions but increase their variable, performancebased commissions.

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The company says it also plans to review its agencyrelationships with an eye toward aggregating agency's into largershops and reduce the size of its small agencies.

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The company's chief executive says agents are supportive of its strategy.

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