Florida garment workers beat back boss firings, lockout
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue Jul 29 19:04:40 MDT 2003
The Militant August 4, 2003
Florida garment workers
win new union victories
NLRB orders Point Blank to pay back wages
to fired, locked-out workers
OAKLAND PARK, Florida -- Garment workers here scored a new victory in
fight for union recognition and a contract at Point Blank Body Armor,
the largest clothing manufacturers in southern Florida with nearly 500
A judge at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found the
which produces bullet-proof vests for various police departments and
U.S. military, guilty of labor law violations for firing three
locking out hundreds of workers trying to organize themselves into the
of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) last year.
Ira Sandron ordered Point Blank July 15 to cease and desist from
bribes and threatening employees to prevent them from joining the
also ordered the company to pay back wages estimated at more than
$300,000to workers whose rights it had violated.
Company president David Brooks released a statement dismissing the
importance of the ruling, but said the company will appeal to a higher
³I am very happy, and everyone I work with is very happy,² Virginia
a union organizer and sewing machine operator in the plant here, told
news media. ³I¹m one of those people who believe that justice also
for the poor, not just for the rich. We¹ve won a victory against the
company, and I trust that, although they¹re appealing, the law will be
In a related victory, the Miami division of the industrial laundry
Linens of the Week signed a contract with the newly recognized UNITE
there July 11, according to union organizer Mervilus Jean-Baptiste.
workers there won the contract only seven months after they began
fight for union recognition.
On July 18 workers at Point Blank celebrated their victory and marked
one-year anniversary of a turning point in their struggle. On that
2002, managers closed the plant in response to a workers delegation
the company to recognize UNITE as their union. The company called
deputies and private security guards to eject workers from the plant.
After the lockout the company fired three union supporters, prompting
six-month strike demanding union recognition and the rehiring of the
unionists. The walkout ended in February when a federal court ordered
company to reinstate the three and rehire all the strikers.
To reaffirm their unbroken spirit one year later, union partisans
break-time gatherings outside the Oakland Park plant and brought
facility hundreds of red, helium-filled balloons inscribed with
³One year of strugglethat is really a victory,² Prospere Eljuste told
Militant reporters at the celebration.
³Unfortunately, the fight is not yet over,² Anesies Jean-Gilles added.
Leonor Hurtado, another worker, stated: ³We will continue fighting
Point Blank signs the contract and gives us the union.²
While not yet recognized by the company, the union has a definite
inside the plant here, workers said.
Ever Gonzalez, who has one year in the plant and was on strike for six
months, celebrated the gains already won. ³Many things have changed
since the union got in, such as a pay raise and better bathroom
he said. ³Now we have water. Without the union we¹d have nothing. We
wouldn¹t have respect, either. Thanks to the union we are fighting for
The crowd of workers wearing red union T-shirts far outnumbered a
company-organized counterprotest of about 30 employees wearing blue
The pro-union crowd included workers won to UNITE since the strike
Marie Perlicier, who has four years at the company, did not
the walkout. Now she has signed a union card and says she is 100
union recognition. ³The union is a good thing for the workers,² she
The NLRB ruling decreed that the company must pay all the workers for
lost hours on July 18, 2002, since the plant closure was unjustified.
also ordered the company to pay back wages to the three fired workers,
management was forced to rehire in February under the federal
After the strike, Point Blank relocated the replacement workers it had
during the walkout from Oakland Park to a brand new facility it opened
nearby Deerfield Beach. It has tried to use the new plant as a
Since the end of the strike, UNITE supporters in the Oakland Park
organized an ongoing campaign to press for union recognition and a
They have organized plant-gate rallies at breaks and lunch time
over the last months. New members have been won to the union. A UNITE
is maintained across the street from the factory and organizers
work full time on the fight .
The NLRB ruling will aid the union¹s effort, workers said. It requires
the company post a notice in the plant in English, Spanish, and Creole
stating that workers have the right to unionize, pledging that the
will not threaten workers, and affirming that Point Blank will pay
wages as ordered by the labor board. The notice must explain that the
company was found to be engaging in unfair labor practices.
UNITE members have distributed informational flyers at both plants
workers know about the latest union victory.
Response at the Deerfield Beach facility to the union outreach
polarization. Union organizer Maria Revelles said July 18 that more
took flyers after the NLRB ruling than during previous efforts, and at
one stopped to ask questions about the significance of the decision
replacement workers. One worker there told Militant reporters that the
flyers generated a lot of discussion inside that factory.
Union supporters are a small minority in the Deerfield Beach plant so
another worker said. Like the majority in that factory, he is
from Haiti, and was hired as a replacement during the strike. ³I
efforts of the union on behalf of the workers,² he stated. ³The
should stop trying to manipulate us.²
Nicole Salgado contributed to this article.
More information about the Marxism