Garment workers strike plants in Los Angeles area
UNITE members win solidarity for their fight nationwide
BY FRANCISCO CIPRIANO
AND WENDY LYONS
UNITE strikers picket Hollander Home Fashions March 9 in Vernon, California.
VERNON, California--Some 450 workers are on strike against Hollander Home Fashions at two plants here, just outside of Los Angeles. Organized by the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), the workers produce curtains, bedspreads, and other home textiles.
About 150 workers set up a picket line in front of the Seville Ave. entrance before dawn March 9. Pickets proudly told Militant reporters that the strike was supported by every worker in both plants.
"There is no pension plan, and the way Social Security is under attack, this is an important issue," noted UNITE Western Joint Board manager Cristina Vásquez.
A worker with 12 years' service, who asked that her name not be used for fear of company reprisal, said, "We want a 401 (k) plan and they don't want to give it to us. This is the most important issue in the strike."
Alberto Pantoja, a machine operator in the plant for 27 years who is making $8.30 an hour, said some workers there "have about 15 years to retire and will have nothing to live on. Current wages aren't enough to save for retirement, especially with recent cuts."
In the last two months some workers at Hollander Home Fashions received a 50 percent pay cut and a doubling of their workload. Wages were cut, Pantoja said, through the use of a new machine that the company says "should be a one-man job. The old system was a two-man job which does not change with the new machine. The only change is that now one person does the work of two."
Marta Bonilla, who has worked at Hollander Home Fashion for five years and makes $6.75 an hour, said, "If we're one minute late, they take it out of our pay."
María Solorio, with four years' seniority, remarked, "The company will pay you 25 cents more an hour to work in the feather department [stuffing pillows] but it's not worth eating dust for that amount. There is no proper ventilation and they don't give us masks."
At 7:05 that morning, a man and a woman arrived to attempt to go into the plant to work. The woman, sent by a temporary agency, didn't know there was a strike, and the pickets dissuaded her from walking through the line.
The man managed to break the picket line held by female workers, by shoving and punching the pickets, hitting María Solorio in the left eye with his fist. He was aided by an office employee who pulled him in through the front door.
Solorio, who was later treated by paramedics on-site for her swollen eye, subsequently said of the incident, "It did scare me to tell the truth, but not enough to stop me from coming back to this picket line every day."
The angry pickets began complaining that police should be protecting them instead of harassing them. "Whose side are they on?" yelled some pickets.
After this incident 20 to 25 new workers, accompanied by a representative of the temporary agency, were sent to break the strike. While some pickets argued with the agency representative, others explained their cause to the new workers. After listening to the unionists, these workers agreed not to break the picket line and left the representative with the pickets.
Throughout the day several drivers scheduled to make deliveries at that location, including a UPS driver, refused to cross the picket line.
At the Boyle Street entrance to the plant, similar events took place. Some pickets stopped a J.C. Penney delivery truck at the gate. The police arrived to quell the disturbance, explained union representative Antonio Orea, "but we held strong, even when they threatened us with arrests."
At the same time, other pickets stopped a pickup truck with 10 workers sent by the Labor Ready temp agency a block and a half from the plant. After the pickets stated their cause, the 10 explained that they didn't know about the strike and then left.
In addition, "the garbage man refused to cross," said Orea while addressing workers at the Boyle Street site. "Instead, he put on a UNITE T-shirt and encouraged us to stand strong." The strikers cheered.
Hollander Home Fashions has plants in Texas, Illinois, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, as well as in Canada. Union officials report that workers in those plants have carried out solidarity actions with the workers in Vernon, ranging from demonstrations, to petitions, to lunchtime meetings.
On March 12, several workers from Los Angeles and other cities attended a solidarity action organized by workers at the Hollander plant in Tignall, Georgia.
Francisco Cipriano is a meat packer in Los Angeles. Wendy Lyons, a garment worker, is the Socialist Workers candidate for mayor of Los Angeles.