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Factory workers rally to call for severance pay, added benefits after sudden closure

Electronics workers held a rally outside East West Manufacturing’s Boston factory on Monday morning to demand severance pay and benefits ahead of the factory’s unexpected closure set for later this month.

East West Manufacturing, a multinational corporation that has operated the factory since 2019, was acquired by investment firm MSD Partners in 2022, according to a press release. The corporation closed two factories in North Carolina months before the Boston location announced its June 21 closure.

Members of the Chinese Progressive Association hold up a flag and sign during the organization’s rally on Monday. Workers are demanding severance pay and benefits after East West Manufacturing announced its closure and layoffs. COURTESY OF CHINESE PROGRESSIVE ASSOCIATION.

More than 50 factory workers, who primarily come from China and Vietnam, were given 60 days’ notice of the closure and resulting layoffs. The rally was held on Monday morning at 12 Channel Street outside East West Manufacturing.

Greater Boston Labor Council, MA AFL-CIO, the Chinese Progressive Association and several other labor and community groups were present at the rally. More than 20 organizations signed a letter addressed to East West Manufacturing management on Monday in support of the workers.

Karen Chen, the executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association, said the rally was a response to a previously unanswered request for compensation from workers. 

“We feel it’s important to send a message to management that [workers’] demand needs to be taken seriously,” Chen said.

The workers are demanding one week of severance pay for each year of service and support in securing new employment, such as providing accurate references, according to an X post from the Greater Boston Labor Council

There is no requirement for severance pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as it is an agreement made between an employer and employee, according to the United States Department of Labor. However, severance pay is often granted to workers who are dismissed from employment.

East West Manufacturing’s Boston factory served various industries, including medical, industrial controls and appliances. Chen said the workers made medical supplies, including ventilators and defibrillators during the COVID-19 pandemic, for minimum wage.

Chaton Green, a business agent for the Greater Boston Building Trades Union, said “it’s a shame” that the workers have to fight for certain benefits considering they “put their lives on the line to support [East West Manufacturing]” during the pandemic.

A single adult needs to make $124,966 a year, or $60.08 an hour, “to live comfortably” in the city of Boston, according to a report from SmartAsset. Chen said the factory workers’ earnings are “far from that standard.”

“Most of [the workers] live in poverty, and much of their income goes to housing costs or rent,” Chen said. “It’s not just the workers themselves, but they also support [their] family.”

Green said the workers depend on work “as a peace of mind” when trying to raise their families and make a living. He said the wages and benefits they receive give workers a sense of security.

“We would expect that larger companies would understand and listen to their worker’s voice, and give the workers what they’re asking for,” Green said.

District 2 City Councilor Edward Flynn and City Councilor At-Large Henry Santana spoke in support of the workers at the rally, before going into the East West Manufacturing building and handing management a letter, according to a second press release. Santana said offering severance pay and additional benefits to the workers is the very least that management can do because the workers rely on their paychecks.

Santana said he hopes East West Manufacturing can “show support” for the workers by “securing new employment and providing accurate references” following the layoffs.

“I really urge our companies to be very intentional about how we’re treating our workers,” Santana said. 

Community members, labor groups and elected officials returned to East West Manufacturing on Wednesday morning to speak with a company executive, according to the press release.

During Wednesday’s city council meeting, both Santana and Flynn filed a resolution in support of the East West Manufacturing workers’ demands for severance pay and support in re-employment

Santana said he hoped his colleagues would sign on to support the workers and families who are facing a “difficult time” due to the closure. The resolution passed in a unanimous vote.

“This is not just an economic issue. It’s a matter of dignity and fairness,” Santana said during the meeting. “It’s unconstitutional that after [the workers’] dedication and service that they’ve left without the support they need to transition to new opportunities.”

Chen said the Chinese Progressive Association hopes East West Manufacturing will take the workers’ demands seriously and “really think about what their moral obligations should be.”

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