RI workers arrested while protesting closed plant’s assets auction

Workers Were Arrested Protesting the Sale of Colibri Group's Assets in Rhode Island

Twelve workers in East Providence, Rhode Island, were arrested yesterday while protesting the auctioning off of their closed factory’s assets.

The factory, owned by the Colibri Group, manufactured jewelry and employed 280 people. On January 14, Colibri closed the factory without giving its workers sixty days notice as is required by the federal WARN Act. Today, machinery inside the plant was being auctioned off to the highest bidder as workers were still demanding two months of back pay. Over 200 people picketed outside during the auction chanting “We’ll go away when we get our pay.” A dozen were arrested after laying down to block cars as buyers entered the premises to bid on the factory’s machinery.

The workers’ demand to receive sixty days’ pay was supported unanimously by the Rhode Island House of Representatives.

This is the second time in the last several months laid-off workers have responded to a violation of the WARN Act by taking militant action. Workers in Chicago at the Republic Windows and Doors factory occupied their plant for six days when management closed the factory with only three days’ notice. The occupation received widespread support from a number of notable people and organizations including then-President-Elect Obama. Unlike Republic workers, however, who were members of United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, Colibri workers were not members of a union.

Ironically, the protest and arrests took place on the same day three million French workers took to the streets to protest French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s handling of the world financial meltdown in France. While workers in the US have not engaged anything close to such large-scale action since labor’s hayday, there is a long tradition of radical working-class activism in the United States.

From the massive public anger over publicly-bailed-out AIG’s massive bonuses to execs and other employees and the House of Representatives’ voting overwhelmingly to levy a 90 percent tax on those bonuses to the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart’s blistering criticism of CNBC for its financial coverage, the tide of public opinion and action has clearly shifted against corporate interests and in favor of workers.

Those of us in West Michigan working towards a more just and democratic world should capitalize on this opportunity and support organizing efforts of workers like the folks from Cobrini.

To discuss this article further, either leave a comment below or email mikeyblogging [at] gmail [dot] com.

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4 comments

  1. I am 1 of the 280 Colibri workers that were locked out of their factory on January 14. This was a complete surprise to the workers as the previous 2 days had seen fellow workers from 1 of our 3 plants be moved with all the inventory and personal to the corporate office in East Providence. This was a consolidation effort. Meetings had been held that same day to orient the workers to new proceddures and to give needed information to our customer representatives about their particular products. They would not be handling the calls themselves anymore. They had now joined the larger group. Overtime happened that same day in order to complete time sensitive shipments. This was not an indicator that the company would be locked down and be put into receivership at 7PM that night. A complete surprise!!

    The employees are now 10 weeks later still with no medical insurance unless the family was covered under a spouses medical plan. Many still have not received their first unemployment check! WE were not given notice and were not given the opportunity to make any plans and were not given access to HR to help with any of the necessary paperwork to help us. The factory was shut down in an unlawful manner. Founders Equity has broken the federal WARN ACT that would have,at least,given us a chance to get the necessary help to go on in a better manner.

    When we were hired we had been promised compensation upon dismissal from our jobs. They certainly didn’t do that! None of the workers want charity, they just want what is owed to them. They are getting past due bills, are having to pay high medical bills when they have to obtain medical care. Everthing is adding up to 1 big mess for a lot of families. Some are facing problems paying their rent or mortage. Everything is escalating because FE didn’t follow the law. Paying the workers their compensation will certainly not solve all their problems. They still need to find a job. There are no jobs!

    I have seen on many of the web sites people telling us “stop feeling sorry for yourself” and “Get a job”. Find me a job! I would love to return to work. I worked for 27 years at Colibri. I was always there. I did my job well. I did not deserve to be locked out.

    FE has closed several companies in the same manner and is now threatening to do it again in New York. This time, at least, they are up front about what they are intending to do. “Give us a bail-out or we will close this factory.” Why should they be allowed to continue to operate in this manner? Why aren’t they held accountable?

    I am being held accountable for my sit-down action on the street in East Providence on March 19th. I was led away in handcuffs, patted down (because, after all,I was a criminal),made to remove articles of clothing, take off my shoes and glasses, fingerprinted and had my mug shots taken. Was it a mistake to protest? I didn’t think so that day and I still don’t think so today in spite of the many comments by people on the websites. I sat down for what I believed was my right to protest against a company that was auctioning off the assests of Colibri.

    It didn’t stop the auction. We never thought that it would. We wanted that day to show people that they sometimes need to take a stand for their rights. Too many financial institutions are doing just what they want to do no matter the result. You can see the result of that in the news everyday. Just take a look at your family and friends and see what is happening to them with this financial mess.

    I will appear in court tommorow and plead not guilty to civil disobedience. I would do it again! It is that important to me and many of the rest ot the Colibri workers to get better protection for workers.

    The Colibri workers have appeared before the Senate labor committee to help them understand our position and, even though it is too late to obtain any help for us, we want to see that there is a State WARN ACT made into law so that RI workers are better protected at the state level.

    We made a recent visit to WAshington,DC and talked with a representative in the labor enforcement department who helped us to learn that, while there is the federal WARN ACT for workers, there is no enforcement policy in the law. What a joke!!! We also met with people in Senator Reed’s and Senator Whitehouse’s office about the federal WARN ACT and the lack of enforcement and our situation.

    What a waste!! A law with no enforcement. WHY???

    We are now filing a federal law suit against FE. They owned Colibri and they are a multi-million dollar investment company. They have the money to pay their long over-due bill to the Colibri workers. They profited from the company. We lost! The banks lost! The vendors lost! Founders Equity did not lose $1 by closing the factory. They had taken their profit from our company and had taken the money from 2 different banks and defaulted on the payments to these banks. They just don’t like to follow rules.

    I am not sorry about what I did! I am sorry that some people don’t understand that once in a while you have to think beyond just yourself. You have to fight back. You don’t have to continue to let companies step all over you like you are garbage to be thrown away. That’s the way that they treated the Colibri workers on January 14! Big mistake!!! We will continue to keep our problem in the papers, on the TV and on websites until there is some reform to the law that better prptects other workers in the future.

    Shirley

  2. Shirley,

    The actions that you and your fellow workers took in defense of your jobs and the law are so inspiring to me and millions of others across the country. It takes enormous courage for you and your co-workers to take on the bosses and the unchecked greed that they are complicit in, even getting arrested for it, but you have done it.

    You are definitely on the right side of this issue, and the folks from this blog are behind you 150%! Keep up the amazing work–I fervently hope you get what is rightfully yours, and that workers around the country realize that this is the only way the greedy owners will listen to any of us.

    In solidarity,

    Mike

  3. Mike,

    Thanks for supporting the Colibri workers. They are still a very committed and hard working group. We are now turning our attention to the banks that are envolved and have received bail-outs while we still receive NOTHING.

    We have filed our federal law suit and will wait the outcome of that. We know that is a long process, but we will continue to fight for our rights.

    Besides fighting for our own compensation, we have turned our attention to the other workers that have faced similiar situations and are without jobs. We are promoting a RI state law that will better protect the workers. Upon passage of this new law, we will continue to try to get other states to pass a law like the RI version. Something has to help the average worker from these companies that just take their profit and run away. We are not going away! Founders Equity did not take into consideration the strength of the Colibri workers before they tried to throw us away like garbage on January 14th.

    The protesters have had their day in court. They did not take a deal offered to them to just walk away and have the case thrown out of court. We did not like the deal that would have split the group apart and would have given different penalaties to some of the persons involved. We will be back in court together for our trial. We sat down in the street together and we will face trial together. We are the Colibri Group!

    Shirley

  4. Hello

    I’m doing a story for a radio about the unemployment in RI.

    I would like to meet you and other people from Colibri.

    Could you contact me : Philippe : 917 359 64 79

    Philippe.antoine@rtl.fr

    Thanks so much.

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