Eastern Fisheries offers to rehire all former staffing agency employees, cites controversial legal decision

Eastern Fisheries' headquarters in New Bedford, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Eastern Fisheries has offered to rehire the 110 or so employees who previously worked in its seafood-processing facility in New Bedford, Massachusetts, U.S.A. through a contract with a staffing agency.

The company sent termination notices to the employees in March, a move that was criticized by a labor group, which alleged Eastern Fisheries was attempting to dismiss leaders of an advocacy campaign calling for improvements to working conditions at the plant.

In a 3 April press release, Eastern Fisheries said its move to switch from using contracted labor to bringing it in-house was made in response to a U.S. National Labor Relations Board determination it was a joint employer of the agency workers.

“This finding has many legal repercussions, but basically, it means there is no longer any legal separation between Eastern Fisheries and employing agencies,” it said.

The company appeared to question the NLRB decision.

“In accordance with a practice that is widespread and commonplace in regional seafood processing operations, Eastern Fisheries has long used the services of staffing agencies to fill numerous jobs in its processing operations. This practice allows companies to effectively outsource their human resources functions to a staffing agency. As is standard practice, our contracts with the staffing agencies stated that these staff members remain employees of the agency, not Eastern, even though they may be deployed to work in our facilities,” it said.

Eastern Fisheries Executive Vice President Joe Furtado said his company had relied on the staffing agencies it used to vet and hire employees, manage benefits, and conduct other human resource tasks. But the NLRB decision rendered the benefits the company received from the arrangement moot.

“To deal with the implications of joint employment, it was my decision to end all of our staffing agency agreements, and going forward, to revise the terms under which we will use their services,” Furtado said. “For the benefit of the affected workers, we did not do this abruptly.  We provided two months' notice to each of the staffing agency employees impacted.  We offered each and every person the opportunity to immediately apply for direct hire with our company, to their former positions, with equal pay and a better benefit package.”

The NLRB decision came in response to a charge it filed against Eastern Fisheries in response to an unfair labor complaint filed by a staffing agency employee who had worked in the company’s processing plant.

As a result of some recent misunderstandings, one staffing agency employee filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) claiming that we had improperly asked the staffing agency to stop sending the employee to our workplace. We have settled that charge with the NLRB, and the employee is back with us, with full back pay for any time missed,” Eastern Fisheries said. “In hindsight, we wish we had handled that individual situation differently, but we believe the matter is now behind us. Eastern Fisheries has been fully compliant with every directive from the NLRB to date. In accordance with the directives, the terms of the resolution have been posted publicly at Eastern Fisheries in English, and in languages representing the native tongues of the employees.”

Eastern Fisheries said it provided all workers in the plant on Friday, 31 March the opportunity to continue in their jobs as direct employees of the company. The company said it provided hiring documents to all 110 of the employees in question and hosted a company  meeting at the end of the workday on 31 March to clarify its position.

“No former agency staff member who wishes to continue working today, as they did on Friday, will be deprived of that opportunity,” Eastern Fisheries said in its 3 April statement. “This morning, at its New Bedford facilities, Eastern Fisheries has in place human resources professionals ready to process new hires, run the required e-verify.gov employment verifications, and welcome all previous agency staff members as direct hire employees.”

Eastern Fisheries said it will pay its normal hourly rate to all employees awaiting completion of the hiring process.

“The National Labor Relations Act gives employees the right to form, join, or assist a union; choose a representative to bargain with employers on their behalf; act together with other employees for their benefit and protection; or chose not to engage in any of those protected activities. Eastern Fisheries does not and will not do anything to prevent our employees from exercising these rights,” it said.

The NLRB has opened a fresh investigation into Eastern Fisheries regarding its February 2023 termination notice to the 110 staffing agency workers.

In the meantime, Furtado said the company would welcome each of them if they wish to return to working in his company’s facility.

“We have welcomed those that have already transitioned over so far,” Furtado said. “The two-month [layoff notice transition] time period ended [Sunday, 2 April], and I am hopeful to see familiar faces walking in Monday morning, ready to be a part of what I have always been proud to be a part of.”

Photo courtesy of Eastern Fisheries


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