Its Polarfleece fabric, invented in 1979, was named one of the 20th Century’s Greatest Inventions by Time Magazine.But Polartecfaces an uncertain future. The company, then known as Malden Mills, grew rapidly in the 1980s and early 1990s as the US military and the world’s leading brands of outdoor, athletic, and aerobic apparel discovered Polartec fabric technology’s ability to achieve exceptional performance and style.
The New England Joint Board UNITE HERE stands in solidarity with the 40,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America at Verizon in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region who have been on strike since mid-April.
After almost a year’s worth of negotiations Verizon has refused to offer workers a fair contract, instead demanding major concessions in job security and working conditions. Central to the dispute is Verizon’s plan to close customer service centers to offshore work to overseas call centers. This would eliminate stable union jobs that support strong communities. Additionally, Verizon is demanding that workers agree to work hundreds of miles away from their homes for as long as two months at a time placing an undue strain on families.
Verizon is responding viciously to the strike by hiring thousands of strike breakers enticing them with extremely high hourly wages and orchestrating a high profile public relations campaign to smear the efforts of the courageous strikers.
Our brothers and sisters with the IBEW and CWA are taking a brave step in confronting the flagrant greed of corporate America. In these times, when working people are being vilified, attacked, and denigrated, we must stand by our fellow workers and fight to protect the middle class and the jobs that support our families and communities. This is a battle for the very soul of our society. Do we allow corporations to erode our quality of life and continue to promote inequality, or do we fight for a better future where everyone has access to opportunity? The 10,000 members of the New England Joint Board are ready to stand beside our striking brothers and sisters for a more just and equal society.
The New England Joint Board calls on our 10,000 members to support our brothers and sisters who are on strike at Verizon by taking the pledge to not cross picket lines at Verizon Wireless stores: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/take-the-pledge-i-wont-cross-the-line
When Saudia Durrant approached the manager at an REI store in Manhattan earlier this month to explain that Polartec, the company that makes much of the fabric that REI uses in their products, was closing their flagship production facility in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the manager listened attentively.
“I let her know that we’re there to represent the Polartec workers [in Lawrence] who are organizing to put pressure on Polartec to have a conversation about keeping Polartec in Lawrence, Massachusetts,” Durant told In These Times.
Durrant, who works for UNITE HERE in New York, was one of over 100 union members, including a number of workers from the Lawrence plant, who approached management at REI stores in 21 cities across the country last Wednesday to draw attention to the closing of the historic textile mill.
Polartec workers and supporters protested Thursday evening at the Big Air at Fenway competition, a freeskiing and snowboarding event sponsored by their employer.
The workers were speaking out against the textile manufacturer’s decision to close its plant in Lawrence, leaving nearly 350 people without jobs, according to the Unite Here New England Joint Board, the union that represents Polartec employees.
Polartec, which makes fleece for apparel sold by Patagonia, L.L. Bean, and North Face, is relocating the work to plants in Hudson, N.H., and Tennessee, and plans to scale down operations in Lawrence over the next few years.
Statement from Bert Barao, President of New England Joint Board UNITE HERE and tailor at Macy’s Department Store.
“Today I am 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. It is a particularly proud moment for our union because he is our own Senator for the great state of Vermont. Over the years we have come to know Bernie as a relentless and unflappable fighter for workers. Bernie is the candidate who will put workers and their families first. In these times, where big banks, corporations, and the wealthy few hold enormous power over both our economy and political process, we are in desperate need of a President who will challenge the powers which have whittled down our middle class. Bernie’s pledge to fight inequality, take on the big banks, and spread opportunity to all Americans not just the few, resonates with our members.
Today we are answering Bernie’s call for a political revolution. Our 10,000 members in the six New England states and New York work hard every day to provide for their families by exercising their voice on the job. We will exercise our collective voice to ensure that our country is no longer ruled by big banks. We will stand together to fight corporate special interests and the job-killing trade deals that empower them. We will bring people together to achieve a debt-free higher education system, a healthcare system which values people instead of profits, and a strong social security system that will allow people to retire with dignity. We will work hard to elect Bernie Sanders the next President of the United States.”
The New England Joint Board UNITE HERE is the union representing 10,000 workers in the six New England states and New York in the textile, garment, manufacturing, laundry, distribution, human services, and food service industries.
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.”
LAWRENCE, MA – The following is the statement of Warren Pepicelli, Manager of the New England Joint Board UNITE HERE, the union representing nearly 350 workers employed by Polartec, LLC following the company’s decision to move manufacturing out of Lawrence.
“In 1995 the world’s eye was focused on Lawrence and the CEO who put people before profits. The story of the devastating Malden Mills fire and Aaron Feuerstein’s generosity in paying workers for months while he rebuilt, is now legend. Now, exactly 20 years to the day, Polartec is walking away from that legacy and from its nearly 350 workers.
Polartec’s recent announcement, just in time for the holiday season, is shocking, outraging, and devastating to our members and the city of Lawrence. This move comes months after Polartec’s purchase of a factory in Tennessee and the layoff of nearly 90 workers. At the time, we were told that this layoff was seasonal and that the Tennessee factory would only compliment operations in Lawrence. In the ensuing weeks however, we watched as machinery was moved out of Lawrence and shipped to Tennessee. We wondered how this could be a good thing for Lawrence and pressed the company to be honest with their intentions. We now know with clarity that Polartec is joining the crowded ranks of cowardly corporate lions that have abandoned workers by shipping jobs out of Lawrence.
This news is especially unsettling considering that long after the fire it was Polartec’s new private equity owners, Versa Capital, that demanded a series of major union concessions telling us they were necessary to keep the company alive. We worked hard to save hundreds of jobs in the city and do not regret our decision. But what we’ve come to find out is that the company, inheritors of the Malden Mills legacy of generosity and compassion, is ultimately motivated by the same corporate greed and lust for profit we’ve come to know all too well.
We refuse to accept the loss that this represents to the City of Lawrence, a city that so desperately needs good family sustaining jobs. We will not stand by as one of the last textile employers abandons a city made world famous in 1912 by brave textile workers standing up for justice. We pledge to do what is necessary to protect our members and the City of Lawrence.”
On Wednesday, October 21st, 130 Westfield State was officially recognized as a union shop with NEJB UNITE HERE. Since earlier this year, workers at WSU were eager to organize for respect and a voice on the job. They quickly formed a 15-person organizing committee, recruiting their coworkers from across the Dining Commons and 7 retail locations. Workers are now eager to get to work on their first contract.
A special thanks:
The New England Joint Board hosted three Organizing Beyond Barriers interns, students Khalil Power and Emiliano Calvo, and Wendy Guerrero, the President of her local at Curry College. In July, the OBBers began connecting with workers at Westfield State University and this victory is in great part thanks to them.
Thanks to the OBB program for all your great work!
More than two-thirds of the workers at Hotel Northampton want to unionize — and on Tuesday night they marched through downtown to deliver that message to hotel management.
The hotel workers, including servers, cooks, housekeepers and maintenance staff, have been organizing over the last year with the help of the New England Joint Board, Unite Here. On Tuesday, over 50 workers, city councilors, union representatives, labor advocates and members of the public gathered outside James House on Masonic Street before walking to the hotel to demand that management recognize the union representation that a supermajority of its workers want.
After nearly 6 months of negotiating NEJB members at Southwick Clothing in Haverhill, MA have ratified a new contract providing strong wage increases and good benefits.
The nearly 400 skilled garment workers making high-end clothing for Brooks Brothers and other major retailers voted overwhelmingly to approve their new 3 year contract. After months of fighting, holding demonstrations, writing letters to the corporate office, and building the union stronger the workers were able to come away with a fair contract. Over the next three years health insurance costs will remain frozen with the same quality of coverage. The negotiating committee was able to win the union dental insurance costing only $2/week for the some of the best quality dental coverage. Workers were proud to win paid sick days and a $1/hr increase over the next three years. The mostly hotly contested issue in negotiations was focused on the defined benefit pension plan. The company, digging its heels in, fought tooth and nail to move to a 401K. The workers remained united and fought hard get the best retirement benefits possible. Ultimately the workers won a 401K plan where the company will pay $0.60/hr for every hour worked with a matching company contribution of $0.50 for every $1 contributed by an employee. In addition the workers won a dignity and respect agreement, and more time for stewards to investigate grievances.
“This is a significant victory for Southwick workers who are among some of the last garment workers in the region” said lead negotiator and Joint Board Manager Warren Pepicelli, “In an industry so decimated by imports and globalization, to be able to walk away from negotiations with such a strong contract is a remarkable accomplishment that couldn’t have happened without worker solidarity. Even in the face of unprecedented corporate arrogance, the workers, speaking a dozen languages and hailing from as many countries, stuck together and won justice.”
The New England Joint Board is a union representing about 8,000 workers in the textile, garment, manufacturing, warehousing, laundry, retail, food service, human services and non profit industries. The NEJB represents workers in the 6 New England states and New York.