In October 2015 – a local seafood processing plant here in New Bedford – in support of one of our community’s workers. The worker had some questions regarding missing paychecks which his temporary agency claimed had already been cashed in.
This particular worker had already faced countless difficulties in trying to solve this issue. First he faced communicating his concerns to the temporary agency. While they have a Spanish speaking staff member who is the primary contact for Central American workers, this worker’s primary language is the Ki’che’ dialect of the Mayan language. Once he overcame that communication barrier, however, the temp agency simply dismissed his concerns saying he had both received and cashed his checks – this had not been the case.
The worker thus resolved to ask the company whether they knew what had happened to his missing pay checks. Here he faced another obstacle. When speaking to the temp agency he had had trouble expressing his concerns in spanish, and now he would have to express himself in English – a language he cannot speak. It was at this time that he came to CCT and asked that our staff or volunteers help him voice his concerns – something we gladly agreed to do.
It’s not surprising that from the onset of our discussions with Top Quality, we were asked to answer some questions regarding our organization. If the company was truly unaware of the issue than it may have seemed as though CCT was instigating an unnecessary conflict. But the owners of Top Quality went even further, continuing the dialogue but clearly expressing suspicion. Our staff did its best to explain that we were there simply as a community resource providing the worker with the interpreters he needed – one who could translate from English to Spanish, and another who could translate from Spanish to K’iche’.
Top Quality however, seemed to take offense at our presence, during subsequent visits they interrogated CCT representatives, asked for identification and made such remarks as “you guys are nothing” and “you disgust me.” Further more, one of Top Quality’s owners threw in the names of people in the Attorney General’s office suggesting that he is protected by legal authorities. We believe that these actions were entirely unnecessary and hint to the way in which the company handles the issues brought up by its employees.
Despite the emotions we experienced during this incident what troubles us the most is that Top Quality has shown us that it – and any company that operates by their standards – exist in the community of New Bedford to serve it own interests rather than to benefit the people of our city.
Although the worker in this case ultimately recovered his missing paychecks, Top Quality’s reaction to his concerns attest to the way in which companies attempt to intimidate workers and their community allies before addressing any issue.
Read our open letter to this company below:
Open letter to the owners of Top Quality Seafoods
Dear Frank and Patrick,
We write this letter to express our concern over the treatment of workers and worker advocates in your facility and to communicate our resolve to stand with Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores (Community Workers’ Center, also known as CCT) and its members in the face of hostility. Representatives of CCT met with you to discuss a concern raised by one of your employees in your seafood processing plant regarding missing payment. CCT found his situation, like that of many workers in the seafood industry, distressing. As you well know, a majority of workers in seafood processing earn minimum wage, almost half of the workers in the industry have experienced some form of wage theft (not being paid for their work) and many live check-to-check. As an additional complication, many companies, like yours, employ staffing agencies which can blur lines of accountability and make it unclear to workers who is ultimately responsible for problems that arise. This frequently creates situations in which the staffing agency and the company blame one another instead of resolving the issue, while the worker suffers.
For these reasons, and at the request of your employee, CCT found it necessary to speak with you about workplace issues. From the onset, your treatment of our organization’s representatives was demeaning and your intentions of intimidating them were evident. After speaking with you for the first time on Thursday, October 15, Frank took it on himself to condescendingly “explain” to CCT representatives the way that “this country works” and to tell their Executive Director that CCT is “nothing”. During their third visit, which Frank himself asked them to attend, Frank expressed his disgust at CCT and the work that they do to help the working-class community of New Bedford.
We want to make clear that this type of hostility and intimidation will not be tolerated and has no place in today’s workplace. Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores was founded to advocate for workers and educate them about their workplace rights, they are proud to be an organization of the working class and immigrants. They are not ignorant of the law and rights in this country. On the contrary, they are very aware of the essential role played by immigrants in our community’s economy as they have organized workers and advocated on their behalf on countless occasions resulting in many resolved conflicts and victories for workers. They advocate for the many who, out of fear of retaliation, uncertainty regarding their labor rights, unfamiliarity with the industry or many other reasons feel voiceless. Your treatment of CCT’s representatives shows exactly why workers often feel unable to resolve their workplace issues on their own.
We want to remind you that New Bedford and the rest of Massachusetts has a proud tradition of working-class solidarity and we will not permit labor violations, disrespect or mistreatment of workers and worker advocates. We appreciate you resolving the initial issue raised by CCT and we urge you to have an open and civil dialogue with Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores in the future.
- Lydia Lowe and Karen Chen, Co-Directors, Chinese Progressive Association
- Natalicia Tracy, Executive Director, Brazilian Worker Center
- Adrián Ventura, Executive Director, Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores
- Gladys Vega, Executive Director, Chelsea Collaborative
- Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, Executive Director, Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH)
- Heloisa Galvão, Executive Director and Lidia Ferrara, Organizer, Brazilian Women’s Group
- Diego Low, Coordinator, Metrowest Worker Center
- Heiny Maldonado, Executive Director, Fuerza Laboral
- Julio Ruiz, Director, LynnWorker Center
- Greg Pherson, Director of Capacity, Immigrant Worker Center Colaborative (IWCC)