Statement from Warren Pepicelli, Manager of New England Joint Board UNITE HERE, on Polartec’s decision to move manufacturing out of Lawrence, MA

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.”

 

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130 More Sodexo Workers Join NEJB

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!

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Hotel Northampton Workers Seek to Join NEJB

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.

Southwick Workers Win Strong New Contract

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. 

 

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2014 Endorsements

The New England Joint Board is excited to announce our endorsements for the 2014 statewide elections being held on November 4th across the region. After careful research the NEJB has decided to endorse the following candidates and initiatives due to their strong support for workers, immigrants, and worker rights. Our endorsed candidates are:

Massachusetts:

  • (D) Martha Coakley, Governor
  • (D) Maura Healey, Attorney General
  • (D) Deb Goldberg, Treasurer
  • (D) Suzanne Bump, Auditor
  • Vote No on Question 1
  • Vote No on Question 3
  • Vote Yes on Question 4
  • (D) Robert DeLeo, Speaker of the House of Representatives, 19th Suffolk District
  • (D) Barbara L’Italien, State Senate, 2nd Essex and Middlesex
  • (D) Marcos Devers, State Representative, 16th Essex
  • (D) Doug Belanger, State Representative, 17th Worcester*
  • (D) William Keating, US House of Representatives, 9th Congressional District

Connecticut:

  • (D) Dannel Malloy, Governor
  • (D) Joe Courtney, US House of Representatives, 2nd Congressional District

New Hampshire:

  • (D) Maggie Hassan, Governor
  • (D) Jeanne Shaheen, US Senate
  • (D) Carol Shea Porter, US House of Representatives, 1st Congressional District
  • (D) Ann Kuster, US House of Representatives, 2nd Congressional District

Maine:

  • (D) Mike Michaud, Governor*

 

* denotes that the candidate is a current union member

 

Please do not forget to vote for pro-worker candidates on November 4th.

Curry College Workers Join NEJB

This month over 70 workers at Curry College in Milton, MA joined the New England Joint Board after an overwhelming vote in favor of joining the union. The 70 workers work for Sodexo at Curry College serve faculty, staff and students in the college’s cafeterias and dining halls. Organizing began in the spring when workers presented a petition to the company calling for a fair process to determine union representation. Over the ensuing months Curry College workers joined student and faculty allies in calling for a fair process. Curry workers led the nationwide fight in restoring health insurance benefits which Sodexo had cut. Travelling to Washington, DC, workers called on congress to close the Sodexo loophole that allows companies to cut benefits while blaming the Affordable Care Act. Because of the courage and leadership of the Curry workers Sodexo reversed its decision and thousands of workers regained vital benefits.

The workers, having supported their brothers and sisters in contract negotiations at Providence College, UMass Boston and elsewhere, are excited to begin the process of negotiating their own contract as UNITE HERE members. Congratulations to Curry College workers and welcome to our union!

 

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Southwick Workers Rally for a Fair Contract

On October 1 about one hundred garment workers at Southwick Clothing in Haverhill, MA  had an after work rally. The workers, members of NEJB Local 187, are currently in negotiations with Southwick, a factory owned by Brooks Brothers that makes high quality menswear. Workers have been negotiating with the company for months but Brooks Brothers refuses to back away from its position of eliminating the current pension plan. In response the union has made creative proposals, even going as far as to offer a unique union pension plan that would limit the company’s liability and costs. To date the workers have been met by a brick wall from the company. Workers are now standing up to protect their pensions and fight for fair wages.

At the rally workers explained why having a strong pension is important to them. “It’s about fairness. Workers at Southwick have had the security of a pension for many years now”, said Stephen O’Connor a 6 year clean-up worker and negotiating committee member. “The company wants to take that away to save a dollar. This benefit has helped make these jobs good jobs. It’s helped establish Southwick as a reputable and iconic company.”

Workers from all departments, all crafts, and from dozens of countries rallied together with the same message: “FAIR CONTRACT, STRONG PENSION, NOW!”

 

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Help NEJB Member Recover from Tragic Lowell Fire

On July 10th a tragic fire swept through a Lowell, MA apartment building killing 7 people and destroying 9 apartments. The fire was one of the deadliest in state history. Many of those killed and displaced were new immigrants from Cambodia. One of the displaced was To Vath, a 23 year member of the New England Joint Board Local 311. After returning home from his 12 hour shift at the Polartec factory in Lawrence, Brother Vath arrived to find his home in flames. Thankfully Brother Vath and his brother escaped without injury but they both lost all of their belongings including citizenship papers and family possessions. Brother Vath came to the US 26 years ago as a refugee from Cambodia and has spent most of his time here as a loyal union member and hardworking textile worker at Polartec.

A fund has been set up to help victims of the fire. Please join the NEJB in making a donation to the fund. Please send a check to:

Branch Street Fire Victims Relief Fund
Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union
P.O. Box 1238
Lowell, Mass. 01853

Click here to read a story about the fire that quotes Brother Vath.

NEJB Announces Endorsement of Steve Grossman for MA Governor

NEW BEDFORD- Today our union announced its endorsement of Steve Grossman for Governor of Massachusetts. Members, officers, and staff of the New England Joint Board gathered outside of the Joseph Abboud factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where over 600 NEJB members are employed, to make the announcement. 

Against the backdrop of the growing factory, Bert Barao, President of the NEJB and a full time tailor at Macy’s in Braintree, highlighted the significance of the setting. “The story of this factory and it’s continued growth serves as a model for positive labor management relations and underscores that we CAN still make things in the USA while protecting and creating good quality union jobs. Today we’re here to announce our endorsement of a man who will do just that.” 

Ethan Snow, Chief of Staff and Political Director for the union, stressed Grossman’s progressive values for the reason for the endorsement. “Steve knows that we’re all better off when workers are treated fairly and valued as part of the solution to our economic troubles, not the problem. He’s done this as a businessman and will continue to do this as Governor of the Commonwealth.”

The New England Joint Board represents approximately 8,000 members in New England and New York with about 5,000 throughout Massachusetts. Our union represents workers in the textile, garment, manufacturing, laundry, warehousing, food service, and human services industries. For over one hundred years our union’s mission has been to bring low wage workers into the middle class with dignity and respect.

Grossman, the current State Treasurer, highlighted his plans to build the economy and support immigrant workers. “Immigrant families built our country, and we ought to treat all people with the dignity and respect they deserve. As governor, I’ll create new manufacturing jobs that pay a living wage, and I’ll fight to reform our broken immigration system so that hard-working families can have a fair chance to get ahead and build a brighter future.”

After the event Treasurer Grossman spent time meeting with the Joseph Abboud workers, answering questions, and learning more about the work of the skilled union garment workers. 

 

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Union Potters Win Strong Contract

SUPER good news! 

The members of NEJB Local 341, artisanal potters employed by Bennington Potters in Bennington, Vermont, just won a landmark new contract! The workers, makers of beautiful handmade pottery, protected their union health insurance, lowered the employee contribution, and won the best wage increases in recent memory. Congratulations gang!

Check out our “Made in New England” page for more information on Bennington Potters and the beautiful pottery that our members make.

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