Eastern Fisheries faces activist campaign following labor plan switch at New Bedford processing facility

Eastern Fisheries' New Bedford facility.

Eastern Fisheries’ switch from contracted labor to an in-house workforce has come under fire from a worker rights campaign that has accused the company of unfair practices.

Earlier this month, the company sent termination notices to around 110 contracted workers at its processing facility in New Bedford, Massachusetts, U.S.A., who had been hired from the staffing agency B.J.’s Service Company.

In early February, Eastern Fisheries ended the contract with the staffing agency, effective 2 April, 2023, and invited all of the affected employees to reapply for jobs with Eastern Fisheries directly, according to The New Bedford Light.

The Centro Comunitario De Trabajadores, a local pro-labor group, said the move was an effort by the company to dismiss 26 leaders of an advocacy campaign calling for improvements to working conditions at the plant.

“They don’t want us organizing,” Centro Comunitario De Trabajadores Director Adrian Ventura said. “It’s clear this is about retaliation.”

The U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) confirmed it has an investigation active that is looking into one charge of unlawful termination made by a former employee, and in a separate case, had found Eastern Fisheries had unlawfully terminated an employee in 2022. According to the newspaper, citing a NLRB document explaining the charge, the fired employee was Ruth Castro, who had worked as a fish processor in Eastern Fisheries’ New Bedford plant for seven years, before she was let go for filing a complaint regarding the instatement of a daily productivity test.

In January 2022, a group of 26 Eastern Fisheries workers sent a letter to the company’s CEO, Roy Enoksen, raising concerns about low wages, inadequate medical treatment, inappropriate sexual advances, and verbal harassment, according to The Public’s Radio. The workers requested minimum hourly pay of USD 16.00 (EUR 14.73) and higher safety standards. 

The NLRB ordered Castro to be rehired and paid lost wages, and said Eastern Fisheries and the staffing service had been “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in [labor law].”

The same group of 26 employees delivered a second letter to Eastern Fisheries management on 30 March, 2023, asking for the company not to fire them.

“Many of us have worked for your company for years, and we are proud of the work that we do – work that has contributed to your company’s success,” they wrote, according to the radio station. “We ask that you defer any action to terminate our employment.”

Ventura, who has never been employed by Eastern Fisheries, said if the workers are not rehired, they will launch a protest campaign against the company.

“It’s clear vengeance,” Ventura said in Spanish. “There are four witnesses who said that their supervisors told them that this is happening because they organized with CCT.”

Eastern Fisheries representatives could not be reached for comment on Friday, 31 March.

The move at Eastern Fisheries follows layoffs at fellow New Bedford seafood processor Blue Harvest Fisheries, which announced on 24 March it was suspending operations at its processing plant and letting go of its 64 workers at the facility.

Photo courtesy of Eastern Fisheries


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