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News :: Globalization : Human Rights : Labor : Organizing
Proman Manufacturing Co. Laying Off Chinatown Workers without Severance Pay
18 Jul 2005
Modified: 01:11:11 PM
On July 16, 2005, a picket line of workers took over the entrance of Proman Manufacturing Company to protest unfair labor practices by this 61-year-old sportswear manufacturing company in Chinatown. Its owner, Joseph Proman, recently confirmed the company will be closing by the end of July and laying-off all of its 40-plus Chinese and Latino workers without severance pay.
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Alice Lewing, community organizer for the Chinese Progressive Association Workers Center (CPAWC), said that Mr. Proman did not give any formal notice to its workers who learned the company is moving to China from one of their supervisors who mentioned it casually. Since then, CPAWC and the American Friends Service Committee have helped Proman Co. workers organize themselves to defend their labor rights and be treated with dignity.

“The workers are really nervous because Proman called the police last Monday to intimidate them,” said Ms. Lewing, “The picket line today is to bust morale.”

According to CPAWC, Joseph Proman and his lawyer claim the company has no money to pay severance, but with sales totaling $5.6 million last year alone, CPAWC members believe it is in excellent condition to meet the workers demands. Mr. Proman owns property worth $2.5 million in Newton, MA, including a 5-bedroom, 7-bath mansion with a swimming pool. Mr. Proman declined to answer any questions for this article.

This past Friday, the workers had a small victory when Mr. Proman paid a full two-week vacation that he owed them since July 1st. They have vowed, however, to continue protests until the rest of their demands are met: one week of severance for every year of work for all employees, compensation for every day short of the 60 days notice they should have received about the factory closure, and Mr. Proman’s cooperation with state and city agencies in requesting Trade Adjustment Assistance for worker retraining.

Workers report poor labor practices at Proman Manufacturing Company including low wages, unsafe working conditions, and intimidation. Proman reportedly yells at the workers for failing to meet production goals, when products are returned, or machinery fails. Most employees make only $6.75 per hour.

One worker, who preferred not to be named, mentioned how injuries at the factory are common. Many women have pierced their fingers with needles and one injured her eye after a piece of scrap metal jumped from a faulty sowing machine. No goggles or gloves are provided.

“It’s not fair to work for twelve years for them,” he said, “to have the doors closed on my face.” He is the father of four children, pays $1,700 a month for rent and has been looking for a job, with no luck so far, since he found out about the company’s plans to close fifteen days ago.

“Most of the workers are over 50 years old,” said Gabriel Camacho, community organizer for the Americans Friends Service Committee, “and the economy is not that good in this country.”

According to CPAWC, Mr. Proman blamed high rent prices in Chinatown for closing down the factory. Ms. Lewing believes gentrification in the area has forced many residents and businesses out. “It has deeply affected the working class and Chinese community here,” she said.

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