LAWRENCE, MA – Polartec, one of the largest private employers in the city, announced on Thursday that it will be moving manufacturing out of Lawrence over the next 18 months affecting nearly 350 unionized workers. In a union membership meeting of Local 311 of the New England Joint Board UNITE HERE, workers expressed their outrage with the decision and vowed to fight to keep their jobs.
The union held a member meeting on Friday at the Portuguese American Club in Lawrence to share what little information the company has communicated to the union regarding the closure. Union leaders said that the company cited transportation and energy costs as key factors leading to the move and that they denied its recent purchase of a factory in Tennessee as motivating their decision. Polartec’s purchase of the Tennessee factory was followed by reassurances from the company that it would only serve to compliment operations in Lawrence. Given the recent news, many workers feel they were lied to and chalked the decision up to corporate greed. “They don’t seem to care about us or about Lawrence.”, said Carlos Alvarado, a Lawrence resident. “I’ve worked here for 26 years. There are no jobs like these in Lawrence anymore. What will people do to support their families?”
Nearly 350 union workers are employed at the textile mill, one of the last in a city once known as an industry center. Union leaders estimate that up to another 700 indirect jobs could be lost in the area due to Polartec’s closure. With an already high unemployment level, Polartec’s departure would be a crushing blow to the city.
News of the closing came on the 20th anniversary of the tragic Malden Mills fire when then CEO Aaron Feuerstein gained world fame for his generosity in keeping workers on payroll while the mill was rebuilt. “In 1995, in the aftermath of the fire, the world’s eye was focused on Lawrence and the CEO who put people before profits.”, says Warren Pepicelli, Manager of the New England Joint Board of UNITE HERE, “Now, exactly 20 years to the day and 2 weeks before Christmas, Polartec is walking away from that legacy, from its workers, and from the City of Lawrence.”
Despite knowing little about the timeline of Polartec’s closure, workers left the meeting vowing to fight to defend their jobs and speak to their coworkers, neighbors, and elected officials. The textile workers would not accept yet another factory closing in Lawrence, especially one with such a storied past. As the union members filed out of the meeting hall each took the time to sign a large poster aptly exclaiming “Polartec Belongs in Lawrence.”