Over 400 union members, skilled garment workers at Southwick Clothing in Haverhill, are worried about their futures after Brooks Brothers, the owner of the factory, notified workers that their last day of employment would be July 20th. Workers at Brooks Brothers’ two other factories in the United State received similar notifications.
The workers at Southwick are members Local 187 of the New England Joint Board UNITE HERE, a union representing manufacturing, distribution, hospitality and other workers in the six New England states and New York. Workers come from dozens of countries speaking as many languages all with a passion for their craft and preserving it in America. The union at Southwick dates back decades to the former Grieco Brothers company in Lawrence before it was purchased by Brooks Brothers in 2008. At the time of the company’s purchase Brooks Brothers was intent on offshoring the few hundred jobs in Lawrence. Instead, through eleventh hour negotiations, the Union was able to convince Brooks Brothers to keep the Southwick factory open in nearby Haverhill. Over the years since then, the Union has fought hard to keep jobs in Haverhill and expand the factory’s benefit to the community by negotiating strong contracts and partnering with the company and state agencies to improve the skills of the workforce and increase employment at the company. There is no doubt that through these efforts the greater community and manufacturing industry have benefited
Now, as Brooks Brothers prepares to turn its back on the people who have built its status as an American icon in the fashion industry, workers are feeling betrayed, left out, and unheard. After months of working through the pandemic adapting their skills to make desperately needed PPE, workers fear being treated as just another item on an inventory list waiting to be sold off in a rummage sale. The workers, in one of the hardest hit COVID 19 hot spots in the Commonwealth, dutifully reported to work, believing in the nobility of the cause and the value they could add through their trade to the pandemic response efforts. At the time, Brooks Brothers was proud to tout itself as the Made in the USA hero of the COVID 19 story. In the blink of an eye that somehow stopped mattering. Suddenly, to paraphrase Brooks Brothers CEO Claudio Del Vecchio, Made in USA doesn’t matter anymore.
Workers at Southwick have worked hard to support the company and through successive labor contracts have shown their flexibility in a diminished and precarious American clothing industry. They can’t be blamed for shifts in fashion trends and the company’s inability to adapt to new style. They can’t be blamed for the changing nature of retail and the company’s inability to adapt to the new ways that people purchase clothing. They can’t be blamed for tariffs and trade deals imposed by government bureaucrats that only hurt American workers. They certainly can’t be blamed for a global pandemic. They should be respected for their work and should be the top priority for the company, for elected officials, and for the community.
It should not be for granted that nothing can be done to avert this tragedy. Brooks Brothers should seek a buyer for Southwick willing to pick up where they have simply given up. Southwick’s workers are known for their quality, producing “natural shoulder” suit construction revered by many American menswear designers and clothiers. Southwick is known not just as the producer of Brooks Brothers tailored clothing but also for high profile labels and clothiers such as J Press, Billy Reid, Orvis, Andover Shop, and Freeman Sporting Club. Southwick has long manufactured dress uniforms for the US military and clothed Presidents. Talent, skill, and “needletrades know-how”, lives on in the Southwick factory. Workers at Southwick are as skilled as they come in the needletrades and could be put to work making almost anything. A company with the right intent and the proper vision could deliver a win-win for workers, the community, and the nearly extinct tradition of garment manufacturing in the United States. If Brooks Brothers feels so bad about closing its American factories it would focus its energy on finding a buyer willing to honor the workers – and the tradition – it is leaving behind.
A statement from Warren Pepicelli, Manager of the New England Joint Board, on the recent murders of black Americans:
“We are sickened by the recent murders of Black civilians in the United States. These murders show the insidious nature of the systemic racism that has plagued this country for centuries. The system is not broken, it was built this way. As a union predominantly comprised of women, immigrants, and people of color, we know that the specters of racism and police violence are a constant presence in the lives of many of our members. These times have made this reality painfully clear. In our mourning we express our anger and grief but we also recommit to the values that built our union in the first place; solidarity, unity, justice, and love. We invoke these values to form a foundation for a better society, one which we will fight to build through working-class solidarity. We will replace hate with love, oppression with justice, violence with peace, and division with unity.”
NEJB members working in the disability care industry in New York State have been on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic. These members care for people with developmental disabilities in residential settings and are vital to ensuring that society’s most vulnerable are able to live healthy and fulfilling lives. Disability care workers have been working around the clock caring for their residents, some of whom have been diagnosed with COVID 19 or have had to quarantine because of it. Every step of the way our members have provided top notch care to these individuals to ensure that they stay and remain healthy. Disability care work is severely undervalued in our society. Workers in this industry are paid through state reimbursed medicaid dollars and have to fight to ensure that the work they do everyday is valued through state funding.
Our members in this industry have confronted the pandemic and its effects head on often with limited or inadequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Through a strong partnership with New York State Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins and the help of Governor Andrew Cuomo, we were proud to be able to provide 2,000 N95 respirator masks to our members at Local 919 Richmond Community Services in Westchester County New York. Pictured below are the stewards and members of Local 919 receiving the masks for distribution at one of the agency’s residential facilities. We are proud to represent these workers and the sacrifices they have made to protect our neighbors, friends, and families. They deserve respect and through their union, they are winning it.
Meet Esmeralda Baez, a production worker at an industrial laundry facility in Boston and member of UNITE HERE New England Joint Board. Esmeralda shares her story from the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis as part of the Greater Boston Labor Council’s #FrontlineHeroes series. Our series profiles the work of union members and everyday heroes who are working on the frontlines during the global pandemic. Stories are updated weekly. To read other Frontline Hero stories, click here: https://gblc.us/tag/frontline-heroes.
The global Coronavirus/COVID 19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects on working people across the globe. Many NEJB employers have curtailed operations or ceased operations all together. During this crisis the New England Joint Board is committed to representing and protecting our members to the best of our ability. In line with these goals we are providing the following information and resources to members.
FEDERAL FMLA AND SICK TIME EXPANSIONS
The US House and Senate have passed a package of bills expanding sick leave and FMLA leave to workers affected by COVID 19. The following expansions will apply:
Emergency Paid Sick Leave: Private employers with less than 500 employees and all public employers are required to provide two weeks of paid sick leave at full pay to employees who cannot work or telework due to quarantine, isolation, or pending diagnosis.
- Qualifying Employees:
- Employee subject to federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order re: Covid-19;
- Employee advised by a health provider to self-quarantine related to concerns related to Covid-19 (e.g., protected health condition);
- Employee is symptomatic and is seeking a diagnosis;
- Employee is caring for someone in categories (i)or (ii);
- Employee is caring for child if school/childcare closed due to Covid-19 precautions.
- All employees as defined by FLSA (and certain federal employees)
- Employees are eligible regardless of how long they have been employed by an employer, if they qualify (above)
- Duration of Benefit:
- Full-Time Employees: 80 hours
- Part-Time Employees: Average number of hours worked over a two-week period (if schedule fluctuates, six-month average of hours)
- No carryover of unused benefits permitted from one year to next
- Amount of Benefit:
- Personal isolation/quarantine: Full pay at maximum of $511/day or $5,110 total
- Caregiving isolation/quarantine/childcare: 2/3 full pay at maximum of $200/day or $2,000 total
- Benefit is based on greater of federal minimum wage, state/local minimum wage, or employee’s regular rate of pay as defined by FLSA.
- Employee Protections:
- Employee cannot be required to find replacement to cover their hours while on sick leave
- Employee cannot be required to use any other accrued sick leave before taking this leave
- Employee cannot be fired, disciplined, or discharged for taking this leave
- Violations: Constitute failure to pay minimum wages under FLSA and subject to FLSA penalties.
- Effective Date: 15 days after enactment of statute and sunsetting 12/31/20
Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act: Amends key sections of FMLA to include time out of work due to childcare needs. Applies to private employers with less than 500 employees and all public employers.
- Qualifying Employees: Employees who have been employed for at least 30 calendar days. Certain health care providers and emergency responders exempted, as well as small businesses with less than 50 employees which can show that imposition of the requirements would jeopardize the ongoing viability of the business.
- Eligibility: Employees must be unable to work or telework due to absence of childcare for child under 18 if school or place of care closed or childcare provider unavailable
- Duration of Benefit: 12 weeks maximum
- Amount of Benefit: First 10 days is unpaid leave but employee may substitute any vacation, personal, or medical or sick leave provided by employer. After first 10 days, at least 2/3 an employee’s regular rate of pay (defined by FLSA) for the hours they are regularly scheduled to work (or if schedule varies, average number of hours for last six months)—but pay shall not exceed $200/day or $10,000 in total (for entirety of leave).
- Notice Requirements: Employees must provide as much notice “as practicable” if foreseeable
- Effective Date: 15 days after enactment and sunsetting 12/31/20
UNION RESOURCES AND UNEMPLOYMENT INFORMATION
Union Office Operations: As of 7/8 the Union headquarters in Boston is open again.
Resources for Members: The following resources have been provided by the International Union
- UNITE HERE COVID 19 Fact Sheet (English/Spanish/Chinese)
- How to Wash Hands Posters (English/Spanish/Chinese)
- How to Safely Remove Protective Gloves (English/Spanish/Chinese)
Unemployment Assistance: The Federal Government has provided guidelines for states to follow in relaxing the requirements for Unemployment Insurance. The Federal guidelines allows states to pay benefits where:
- An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work;
- An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and
- An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member
Each state must enact it’s own legislation in order to implement the new federal guidelines. Below is a listing of each state in the NEJB’s jurisdiction and information about the status of updating its unemployment system to conform to federal guidelines.
Connecticut: New unemployment claims may be filed by clicking here. All workers who become unemployed due to Coronavirus should file for unemployment. The following steps should be followed when filing a claim:
- Answer “YES” to the question “Do you have a DEFINITE return to work date after today?”
- If you do not know your return to work date but expect to return to your job, enter 04/01/2020 for your return to work date when prompted.
- Have your employer’s DOL registration number available. If you do not have the number, enter 99-999-95
- When you are asked if you are able and available for full-time work on either your initial claim or your weekly claims, please answer “No” only if you are out of work because YOU are sick.
- If your employer is shutting down for a period of time because of COVID-19 and will be paying you your usual wages for this time, you are not eligible for unemployment.
Maine: Emergency legislation was approved this week by the legislature to allow Maine workers unemployed due to COVID 19 to file for unemployment. Please refer to this document for eligibility information. Unemployment claims may be filed by calling 1-800-593-7660 or online.
Massachusetts: Workers laid off due to COVID 19 should apply for unemployment assistance immediately. For a guide to applying for unemployment due to COVID 19 click here.
The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) has relaxed the following rules for CURRENT claims in the system:
- All requirements regarding attending seminars at the MassHire career centers have been suspended.
- Missing deadlines due to effects of COVID-19 will be excused under DUA’s good cause provision.
- All appeal hearings will be held by telephone only.
The has approved a waiver of the 1 week waiting period before receiving benefits. The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development has implemented emergency regulations that will allow people impacted by COVID-19 to collect unemployment if their workplace is shut down and expects to reopen in four or fewer weeks. The following conditions willapply:
- Workers must remain in contact with their employer during the shutdown.
- Workers must be available for any work their employer may have for them that they are able to do.
- An employer may request to extend the period of the covered shut-down to eight weeks, and workers will remain eligible for the longer period under the same conditions described above.
- If necessary, DUA may extend these time periods for workers and employers.
Workers should file for unemployment online at the Department of Unemployment Assistance website.
New Hampshire: As of 3/19 Governor Sununu has exapnded the scope of eligibility and has extended benefits to workers dealing with COVID 19. Updates can be found at the Department of Employment Security website. Workers laid off due to COVID 19 should file for unemployment immediately by calling 603-271-7700 or applying online here.
New York: The New York State Department of Labor has waived the seven day waiting period before receipt of unemployment benefits. Workers on lay off due to COVID 19 may file for benefits by calling 888-209-8124 or through the Department of Labor website.
If you are filing a new unemployment insurance claim, the day you should file is based on the first letter of your last name. If your last name starts with A – F, file your claim on Monday. For last names starting with G – N, file your claim Tuesday. For last names starting with O – Z, file your claim on Wednesday. If you missed your filing day, file your claim on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Filing later in the week will not delay your payments or affect the date of your claim, since all claims are effective on the Monday of the week in which they are filed.
For instruction on how to file your claim please see the step by step guide here.
Rhode Island: The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training is allowing workers laid off due to COVID 19 to apply for unemployment benefits. Workers are encouraged to follow the RIDLT fact sheet on filing for unemployment. Unemployment claims can be filed by calling 401-243-9100 or by filing a claim online.
Vermont: Workers impacted by COVID 19 or laid off due to COVID 19 may file for unemployment benefits here or by calling 1-877-214-3332. By executive order of Governor Scott payments will be expedited and the filing process will be waived.
*Please check this page often as it will be regularly updated as new information is released*
*Updated 7/8/20 1:29 PM*
Today we are proud to announce that the rank and file leaders of the Executive Board of the New England Joint Board UNITE HERE have unanimously voted to endorse Bernie Sanders for President of the United States. Our union represents 10,000 workers in the six New England states and New York in the manufacturing, distribution, laundry, hospitality, and human services industries. Our members work in factories, mills, warehouses, industrial laundries, cafeterias, casinos, hotels, group homes, and offices. We are a union of immigrant workers, with women and people of color representing a majority of our membership.
Bernie is the candidate who has spent his life fighting alongside the working class. In these times where big banks, corporations, and the wealthy few have enormous power over our political system we need a President who will stand with the workers of this country. We believe in the multiracial, multi-generational, working class movement that Bernie Sanders is leading to bring social, economic, and racial justice to all. We share Bernie’s belief that the best way to confront the massive inequality imposed on our country is through empowering workers through a strong labor movement. When we expand the rights of workers and strengthen unions, we can rebuild America’s working class. The health insurance crisis is one we have to face every day at the bargaining table where ever-increasing insurance costs are exacerbating what are already difficult negotiations. While we are proud to offer our members some of the best quality medical insurance in the region, we support Medicare for All because we believe everyone should have health insurance as a right. We believe in a Green New Deal because as low wage workers and people of color we know that the climate crisis will have a disproportionate effect on us. We must act now to ensure a sustainable future for our children. We believe in Bernie’s plan to protect and expand Social Security because working class Americans deserve to retire with dignity. Bernie knows that we are a nation of immigrants and shares our belief that we must welcome those who seek the American dream, build our communities, and strengthen our economy. We support his plan to implement an immigration system grounded in compassion, and civil and human rights. We share Bernie’s belief that our nation can be the most prosperous and true to its ideals when that prosperity is shared by everyone.
Today we pledge to lend our collective voice to the grassroots movement behind Bernie’s campaign. We will stand together and we will fight for each other. Not me. Us.
Executive Board of the New England Joint Board UNITE HERE
We’re excited to announce that the Pressers’ Local 12 ILGWU Credit Union has merged with Somerville’s Credit Union to offer the members of the New England Joint Board credit union membership. We are proud to offer the great benefit of Credit Union membership to all members of the NEJB. Credit Unions are community-oriented, member-owned financial institutions that are driven by serving the needs of their members, not profit. Credit Unions offer working people a great way to gain financial independence and financial literacy by offering a people-centered focus to banking.
Join Somerville’s Credit Union (located at 236 Holland street, Somerville, MA) to open a Share (Savings) Account with a low $25 opening balance. Sign up for our checking account to enjoy debit/ATM card access at more than 30,000 nationwide CO-OP network ATMs. Bank where you live & work by visiting any of the 5,000+ CO-OP Shared Branches. Conduct your banking from the privacy of your work or home through our Virtual Branch, allowing free online access (including 24/7 remote check deposit capability). Many more, low & no-cost financial services, including a full suite of CD’s, Personal, Vehicle & Real Estate loans are available to you as a New England Joint Board UNITE HERE! union member. Details can be found at: www.sommfcu.com or call: 617-625-0898
SPRINGFIELD, MA – Workers at MGM Springfield overwhelmingly ratified their first union contract, a four-year deal covering nearly 700 workers who work as cocktail servers, guest room attendants, bartenders, cooks, valet drivers, and other hospitality positions at the resort casino.
By the end of the contract workers will see an average 19% increase to their wages with some workers seeing their wages increase by almost 40%. Workers will continue to benefit from high quality health insurance and will not pay any increase in their contributions for the duration of the contract. The Company will begin contributing to a defined benefit pension plan on behalf of each employee in the third year of the agreement, a benefit almost unheard of in the area hospitality industry.
“We’re extremely pleased to have won such a momentous first contract for workers at MGM Springfield,” said Warren Pepicelli, Manager of the New England Joint Board UNITE HERE which represents servers, bartenders, housekeepers and other hospitality workers. “This is a strong first step towards setting a standard in the gaming industry in Massachusetts.”
Frank A. Rossi, President and Principal Officer of Teamster Local 404 which represents warehouse, valet, front desk workers and others stated “The best way to rebuild the middle class is through strong union contracts that strengthen our communities.”
“With this union contract I feel relieved that my job and benefits will be protected so that I’ll be able to provide for my family,” said Laurie Andrews-Johnson, a Guest Service Representative in the Slots Department. “Now I know I have a voice at work with guaranteed wage increases, retirement security, and high-quality benefits.
About the New England Joint Board UNITE HERE The New England Joint Board is a union representing 10,000 workers throughout New England and New York who work in the textile, garment, manufacturing, distribution, laundry, human service, and hospitality industries. The New England Joint Board is an affiliate of UNITE HERE International Union. For more information, visit www.nejb.us.
About Teamsters Local 404 Teamsters Local 404 is a union representing 1,500 workers in distribution, public sector, trucking, and manufacturing to name a few in the Western Massachusetts area. Local 404 is an affiliate of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. For more information, visit www.teamsters404.com