LINDEN, NJ — Workers at Laminated Industries, located in Linden, state they are planning a major strike in protest of what union representatives call the continued failure of Laminated owner, Mendel Schwimmer, to negotiate a fair contract with employees.
A previous strike just months ago yielded no results, according to union representatives.
This time may be different, however, as the workers are gaining awareness and support from the community, including New Jersey state Sen. Nicholas Scutari and Union County Freeholder Christopher Hudak.
Tom Walsh, president of RWDSU Local 262, told LocalSource that Schwimmer has refused to negotiate fair contracts, improve conditions inside the plant, or provide health coverage for his employees. “I’m telling you right now — this guy is definitely the worst employer in the state of New Jersey,” said Walsh. “I will never find someone worse than this.”
Walsh said he questions how the attorney for Schwimmer, Louis Capozzi, of the law firm of Capozzi Adler, can defend what Walsh sees as indefensible. “I understand that lawyers are there to protect their clients,” said Walsh. “I’ve dealt with a lot of attorneys, but there’s a fine line.”
Walsh said that he is considering contacting the Bar Association regarding Capozzi.
As of press time, Capozzi had not responded to LocalSource’s requests for comment.
LocalSource reached out to Schwimmer at Laminated Industries but was told Schwimmer was not in. The phone was then hung up abruptly.
According to Walsh, one of the reasons Schwimmer is keeping wages so low is because he does not want to provide health care for his employees. “During negotiations, they said they didn’t feel a need to give them health care,” said Walsh. “They said, ‘Let them get ObamaCare.’ They have yet to make an economic proposal. They’re refusing. We are getting absolutely nowhere.”
Alan Maine, assistant to the president and director of collective bargaining for RWDSU, said that workers get one week of vacation a year, but since the plant is closed on every major Jewish holiday, workers are using their vacation days in order to earn back some of the money lost during the weeks of unpaid Jewish holidays.
“None of these employees are Jewish,” said Maine. “Only the owner is Jewish. Our proposal was, ‘Let these employees work on Jewish holidays.’ These workers need to pay rent, to pay bills to survive, but are being forced to take these holidays with no pay. In America we totally respect everyone’s right to believe in what they want to believe in, but they have no right to impose these holidays on people and not pay them.”
Unfair labor practice charges have been filed against Schwimmer, with more to come, said Walsh. “They said they were not prepared to make any wage offers,” said Walsh. “I couldn’t believe it. They said they still had to analyze the situation. They’ve been analyzing for almost a year now.”
Neftali Rivera, an employee at Laminated for 13 years, told LocalSource that things have not improved at all since workers walked off the job in protest of what Rivera calls unfair wages and dangerous working conditions. “The only raise we ever get is 20 cents a year — if we can even get that,” Rivera told LocalSource through a Spanish-speaking translator. “We have no insurance, no benefits and unpaid holidays.”
Rivera said that he wants the company to keep going, but that workers want to grow also and earn enough to support their families. “It’s a one-way street,” Rivera said in regard to the negotiations. He claims that Schwimmer does not care about providing workers with a living wage.
According to Rivera, nothing has been fixed inside the plant, and conditions remain dangerous and unsanitary. “Two weeks ago a battery blew up at the warehouse and a worker was injured and brought to the hospital,” said Rivera, who claims that OSHA was called to the warehouse after police responded to the injury and saw the conditions inside the plant. “We want everybody to know what kind of boss we have. We want people to know that we are working in very bad working conditions.”
According to OSHA’s district office in Avenel, an investigation into Laminated Industries was opened on July 1.
Maine told LocalSource that Schwimmer is not actually interested in negotiating at all. “The company is engaging in what we refer to as ‘elaborate surface bargaining,’” said Maine. “This means he just shows up and puts on a show of bargaining. He has made no show of any economic proposals,” said Maine of Schwimmer.
According to Maine, Schwimmer has not responded to any of the union’s proposals on wages. “This is called a ‘plantation system,’” said Maine. “The hourly wages are totally at the discretion of the owner. It’s like a plantation because if you do or say anything that the plantation owner objects to, you lose your bonus. It’s a plantation mentality.”
Maine claims that Schwimmer’s workforce is 100 percent Hispanic, with many of them immigrants. “That’s a group he feels he can exploit,” said Maine.
According to Maine, another negotiating session held just days ago yielded nothing from Schwimmer. More unfair labor charges will be filed after the unsuccessful bargaining session. “We are setting up the groundwork for an unfair labor practice strike,” said Maine. “You talk to these workers. They work like crazy. The place is filthy, it’s dangerous and unsanitary. The bathrooms are filthy. … The mayor needs to look into this.”
Scutari released a statement in support of the employees at Laminated. “The hardworking men and women at Laminated Industries voted to organize last August,” said Scutari. “It is shameful that for nearly a year they have continued to work without a contract. Management must return to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair contract with the workers who dedicate each day to strengthening their company. The employees at Laminated Industries deserve a fair contract that ensures safe working conditions and a decent wage, and I stand with them in full support of their effort. They are part of a movement that over decades has helped to improve conditions for workers across this nation and is vital to protecting workers’ rights.”
Hudak also expressed his support and released the following statement regarding the situation at Laminated. “On behalf of the Union County Board of Freeholders, we stand in support of the workers of Laminated Industries who have chosen to exercise their inalienable rights to organize a union and bargain collectively,” said Hudak. “Respecting the dignity, human rights and collective voices of our working class helps pave the way for a more prosperous, secure and vibrant future.”
Walsh said that there is no room for employers like Schwimmer in this country. “It’s corporate greed,” he said.
Rivera said that workers need the continued support of the community. “We are together, we are with the union, and we are united,” said Rivera. “We need community support.”