UE Workers Want to Takeover Gasket Plant

Boston-Area Union Will Block

Factory Auction to Save Jobs

By Jane Slaughter

via Labor Notes

Nov. 29, 2010 – In a move to save factory jobs that evokes shades of the ’30s, the United Electrical Workers [1] are asking supporters to block a December 14 auction of presses and equipment from a plant south of Boston. The UE is calling for mass picketing and blockading of entrances to the 80-year-old plant if necessary.

Esterline Technologies Corp. of Bellevue, Washington, has refused to hold off on selling the equipment till another buyer can be found. The union’s request to buy the closed plant, which would create an employee-owned factory, has been ignored.

“They told us a year ago they did not want the presses or equipment,” said UE Local 204 President Scott Marques. “But they would rather junk them than sell them to us.”

The plant makes crucial door-seals and silicone gaskets for aircraft. Esterline is consolidating operations in Southern California and in Mexico.

Eminent Domain

Actually, the UE is trying two drastic tactics to keep the plant open: it’s also enlisted the Taunton, Massachusetts, city council, which has said it would use eminent domain [2] to take over the assets, and then sell them to a new owner. Keeping the machinery together—rather than sold off piece by piece or for scrap—is crucial to that plan.

Marques says that in addition to help from fellow union members and groups like Massachusetts Jobs with Justice [3], the union is trying to enlist the plant’s neighbors and nearby business owners. “They’re losing out, too,” Marques said, noting that generations have been supported by the plant.

The plant’s workers are known for their longevity, through multiple owners. Marques said 25 to 30 of the 85 union members have worked there at least 30 years, and two retired with 51 years’ seniority.

Doreen Arguin says she’s not ready to retire at the age of 60 years, 41½ of them in the factory. Now a van driver, she says it takes skill to create seals from silicone, fabric, and rubber—take a look at your window the next time you’re on a plane, and be grateful for union labor.

“I’m a worker, I like to work,” Arguin said. “I can’t fathom not going there every day. I’ve never been married, but I feel as if I just got divorced, and not a divorce that I wanted.”

Peter Knowlton, the UE’s regional president, says Esterline could realize only a pittance by selling the machines, maybe $100,000 to $250,000. An auction typically brings little more than the cost of scrap. “It’s collectively they have value,” he said, “when you put a workforce in front of them.”

But potential investors need to be sure there will be something there to buy. “No one wants to give you an answer if they don’t know if there’ll be presses or equipment in the building,” Marques said.

Knowlton believes Esterline might defy the city’s use of eminent domain, and hold the auction on December 14 anyway. Thus the need for as many supporters as possible to get in the way of that plan. The UE is no stranger to militant actions in December: in 2008 its local at Republic Windows and Doors [4] in Chicago occupied a factory for six days to demand legally required severance payments.
Bad Actors

Esterline and its local subsidiary Haskon, Inc. have set the standard for bad actors in a plant closing. Executives were shocked to learn that Massachusetts law requires a company to keep paying its regular share of workers’ health insurance for three months after a closing. It took the intervention of the state’s congressional delegation and attorney general to convince them to pay up.

Then the company reneged on severance pay. Its proposal “gets worse every time we meet,” Marques said. “Now they’re putting our severance on the basis of what they can get at auction of the machines.”

The Taunton mayor and city council are asking Esterline to postpone the auction till February 15. The union, potential investors, and interested management employees also need time to raise funds and write a business plan. The union has hired the longtime former president of Haskon as a consultant, and a feasibility study by the ICA Group, experts in employee-owned cooperatives, concluded that a new company could succeed in the aircraft sealant market.

Arguin, the local’s secretary-treasurer, explained that a small business would be eligible for certain government contracts through a program for “historically underutilized business zones.” Federal agencies are required to give a certain percentage of their contracts to such businesses.

The UE is asking for emails, faxes, and calls to Esterline requesting a delay of the auction till February 15. Contact Esterline Corp., 500 108th Ave. NE, Suite 1500, Bellevue, WA 98004, 425-453-9400, fax: 425-453-2916, info@esterline.com [5].

See the Keep Haskon Jobs In Taunton! Facebook page [6] for updated information, including on the December 14 auction protest. If your local plans to send a delegation, let the UE know at 774-264-0110 or uenortheast@gmail.com [7].

“We’re going to keep fighting, we’re not going to let it go,” Marques said. “We think we should be treated fair.”

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