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News :: Globalization : Human Rights : International : Labor : Organizing : Race
Workers Struggle with Intimidation after ICE Raids in New Bedford
20 Nov 2008
Over a year after the immigration raids in New Bedford, the working conditions at Eagle Industries (formely known as Michael Bianco) have continued to worsen as workers struggle for labor rights. In an interview with Maria Gonsalves, lead organizer from UNITE HERE, she talked about how the new factory owners have used intimidation tactics against the workers who have tried to organize there.

LISTEN: Interview with Maria Gonsalvez, lead organizer with UNITE here, can be downloaded here:
Mural at UMass, Dartmouth, by Dan Devenny.
Gonsalves said in an interview with WMBR, 88.1 FM in Cambridge, that workers at Eagle Industries make $8.50 an hour before taxes, with no health benefits. Health insurance was offered to the workers only after Massachusetts passed a law requiring companies to do so, but at $270 per week per family, it's a health care package few workers can afford. All workers get only one-week vacation, regardless of seniority at the company, and are required to take it in July when Eagle Industries closes the factory.

Under a federal Army contract worth $37 million, Eagle Industries makes military apparel (backpacks, grenade bags, water bags) for soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The immigration raids conducted in March of 2007 by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was one of the largest in the country and devastated the New Bedford community. According to MIRA coalition, an immigration rights organization, 361 workers were detained, between 100-200 children were separated from their families, and 160 immigrants have been deported so far.

As Michael Bianco Inc. faced a federal investigation and a lawsuit, they sold the company to Eagle Industries, a Missouri-based family-run business under the leadership of president John Carver. The lawsuit was filed by Greater Boston Legal Services, a legal advocacy group representing many of the immigrants facing deportation. Yesterday, November 18, Bianco reached a settlement and agreed to pay $850,000 in unpaid overtime and wages, some of which will go to pay fees for those who continue to wait for deportation proceedings.

However, not much has changed at Eagle Industries, where the workers face daily intimidation and unfair labor conditions, despite the fact that they all have proper work permit documentation. Most of them are Spanish, Portuguese, and Cape Verdean speakers.

UNITE here got involved with the workers earlier this year and the union went public in April. Since then, they were able to put a stop to a "Friday surprise" practice (as labeled by the workers), where Eagle would fire one worker, every Friday of the month for apparently no reason. This past summer they were fighting for air conditioning as the factory got so hot that people fainted almost daily.

According to Gonsalves, the company owner has tried to scare workers from joining the union saying that they will lose their federal contract, get a "bad reputation," and "won't be able to compete."

When one union organizer was fired on August 1st, for answering a phone call during working hours, the workers organized a one-day work stoppage and were visited by 11 police crews, 2 police wagons, and 3 ambulances.

According to the Standard-Times, on August 14, Eagle Industries filed a complaint against UNITE HERE for alleging that "the union had harassed its employees and violated the National Labor Relations Act by taking photographs without their consent and without an explanation." The National Labor Relations Board dismissed all charges in early November.

Since then, there is a fear based on rumors that Eagle Industries owner, John Carver, is planning to shut down the factory by December and move it to Puerto Rico. Yet in another small victory last Thursday, November 14, the workers were able to advocate for the New Bedford City Council to vote unanimously to keep the company from leaving the city, therefore keeping the 330 jobs in their community.

LISTEN: Full interview with Maria Gonsalvez, lead organizer with UNITE HERE, can be downloaded here:

FOR MORE INFO: Read about the history of the workers' struggle in New Bedford at:
See also:

This work licensed under a
Creative Commons license.
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