Unionized textile workers lost guarantees against outsourcing in their latest contract, but the factory owners assured employees they wouldn’t need the protections.
That truce ended contentious negotiations between management at Trelleborg AB, a Swedish multinational corporation, and the hundred members of UNITE HERE Local 151, who produce coated fabrics at a Fair Haven Heights factory. Workers have overwhelmingly approved a new contract.
Both parties were attempting to agree on their first contract since Trelleborg bought the plant from Uretek in November 2014.
As the last contract’s expiration date loomed on July 1, union members picketed outside the Lenox Street facility. Through their bullhorns, they demanded the company retain a provision ensuring that management may not move work traditionally done in New Haven to another location unless the employees are fully supplied with other work or the government shuts down production with a stop-work order. Some workers in attendance even threatened to walk out if an agreement couldn’t be reached.
Trelleborg wouldn’t budge and eliminated the job protection language. It assured union leaders that new product lines would keep the New Haven factory running, even as other work is consolidated at the company’s factory in North Carolina or abroad in Asia.
“We do not wish to go in any details about the newly signed agreement,” Eden Isbell, human resources director for Trelleborg’s American division, told the Independent in an email, “but we can conclude that we are satisfied with the outcome and are now focusing on implementing it.” In response to questions about whether the New Haven plant would remain operational, she added, “We remain committed to the New Haven site and continue to work to build efficiencies and improve site manufacturing processes to enhance our value to our customers.”
In exchange for giving up the contract language, Trelleborg offered to maintain pensions and benefits, increased wages by a record amount and improved some minor working conditions, said Frances Boyes, the director of representation from the New England Joint Board UNITE HERE.
The outcome is “as good as we could probably get,” she said. “The company spent some time explaining to us their plans for the future of this facility, and in the end, we decided to place some faith in them that they are trying to build a viable business here in New Haven.” Boyes said she couldn’t disclose exact details, but she said the company gave reasons to believe leaving entirely would be “incredibly difficult.”
Union members still fear that there will layoffs as Trelleborg reorganizes, especially now that they have no legal mechanism to fight it. The new contract does set out a “fair and transparent” layoff procedure and severance packages, Boyes said.
When put to a vote on July 1, union members voted near unanimously — 99 percent of those in attendance, Boyes said — to approve the new contract.