New England Joint Board Endorses Bernie Sanders for President

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.”

 

 

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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. 

Workers Outraged After Company Announces Closing

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.”

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.