LINDEN, NJ — After more than a year of unsuccessful attempts by workers at Laminated Industries, located in Linden, to negotiate a fair contract with Laminated owner Mendel Schwimmer, workers, community leaders and union representatives took to the streets in a labor rally Friday, Aug. 19, in support of the workers.
Linden Mayor Derek Armstead, Union County Freeholder Christopher Hudak, representatives of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and others stood outside the Laminated plant, located on Brunswick Avenue, demanding fair contracts and better working conditions from Schwimmer, who union representatives say has stymied the process, refusing to cooperate with talks or offer any kind of concession.
LocalSource reached out to Schwimmer. A receptionist at Laminated told LocalSource that Schwimmer was unavailable and that “nobody else wants to talk to you.”
Louis Capozzi, attorney for Schwimmer, also did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment.
Just months ago, workers at the paper and paperboard plant walked off their jobs in protest to what union representatives and employees cite as unfair labor practices, including pay cuts, unsanitary and unsafe conditions, and low wages.
Allen Mayne, assistant to the president and director of collective bargaining for RWDSU, was at the rally in support of the workers. “What we’re trying to do is to get the employer to wake up and treat his employees with a little respect,” Mayne told LocalSource in a phone call.
According to Mayne, Schwimmer — who allegedly has 50 or more employees — is, by law, required to provide health insurance for his employees. Yet, said Mayne, Schwimmer continues to refuse to pay anything. “He doesn’t want to pay anything for these employees,” said Mayne. “He wants taxpayers to pay for health care for his employees.”
According to healthcare.gov, employers with 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent employees are required to provide health coverage. Full-time employees are those who work, on average, 30 hours or more per week or more than 120 days per year. Full-time equivalent employees are part-time employees whose collective hours are counted toward the 50-employee requirement. LocalSource could not verify the number of employees who work at Laminated Industries.
Mayne said Schwimmer and his group of upper management are living high on the hog, while his employees can barely scrape by. “It’s quite amazing that he and his group drive off in big SUVs, yet his employees ride bicycles to work because they can’t afford public transportation,” said Mayne. “These people who have served decades for him get one week of vacation, and then they have to give it back because they can’t work on Jewish holidays,” Mayne said, referring to the weeks of unpaid vacation that Schwimmer’s employees are forced to take. “In other words, they get no paid vacation and cannot go see their families, many of whom live overseas.”
Mayne expressed thanks to Armstead for coming down to support Laminated employees, as well as other community leaders. “We definitely want to thank the mayor of Linden, who came out to support the workers and said a few words,” said Mayne.
Armstead spoke eloquently to the crowd of supporters. “We’re here today because we want you all to know that we stand in solidarity with the union and your employees and workers here,” said Armstead. “We believe that every person is entitled to a fair wage. And in this day and time, it’s increasingly difficult to feed our families, put food on the table, educate our children, just basic living. The city of Linden, we stand in solidarity with you.”
Hudak expressed pride in Laminated employees. “I am so proud of you standing here today, protesting for your rights as workers,” Hudak said. “This is a community that understands the value of the work you do in manufacturing, the job that you fulfill. And we understand how it impacts our country, our economy.”
Hudak commended the workers for standing up for fair labor practices. “You might say that Linden is a very pro-business community, and we are,” said Hudak. “But what I will tell you is we’re pro business because the employees and the workers of Linden have a strong history of union representation that has made sure that the workers who work in this community were protected. What you’re asking for today is dignity as workers. You’re asking for a fair wage. You’re asking for health benefits. And you’re asking that your management take you seriously, and it’s about time they do.”
Tom Walsh, president of RWDSU Local 262, said that the show of support at the rally helped lift employee spirits. “I thought the rally went well in keeping up the employees’ spirits,” Walsh told LocalSource in a phone call.
According to Walsh, a strike appears to be inevitable. “It’s going to take a lot to get these people to think that what they’re doing is wrong,” said Walsh. “I think we’re heading toward a strike. We’ll go on strike for as long as it takes. I’ve just never in my life seen people who are so blatant about not willing to bargain,” said Walsh of Schwimmer. “I like to believe that there is good in everybody. I’d like to believe that Mendel Schwimmer has some good hidden inside, but we have yet to see it.”
Mayne expressed his exasperation with the bargaining situation as well. “It’s amazing,” said Mayne. “Schwimmer is willing to spend thousands of dollars on attorneys, yet won’t pay his employees. These are hard workers and they are making nine or 10 bucks an hour in Linden, New Jersey. If you’re not a member of his closed community, then you’re just not a person. He just doesn’t care about his fellow human being.”
Walsh said that Usher Isaac, plant manager at Laminated, allegedly told the union to leave the employees alone and that ‘they have no money.’ “That’s exactly the point,” said Walsh, incredulous. “They have no money.”
Walsh said that the union will stand beside the beleaguered workers for as long as it takes. “We’re not gonna leave these workers,” said Walsh. “We’re gonna be at their side. They’ve been through a lot.”