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Necco Workers Strike Over Health Care Costs

By Jennifer DeBoer


New England Confectionary Co. machinists, on strike since Monday, Aug. 19 started their picket shift outside the 254 Massachusetts Ave. factory at six o’clock Thursday morning.

“They [the Necco administration] make their own rules,” worker Tim Stevarcor said.

According to Stevarcor, changes in health care costs for machinists precipitated a call to the local union for approval to leave work starting Aug. 19.

Ongoing negotiations displeasing

One of the changes the strikers were protesting was the reduction of time-and-a-half overtime hourly pay to straight time. Since state law requires overtime pay after forty hours per week, the company wanted to change the workdays to four ten-hour days, depriving workers of opportunities for extra pay for weekend or after-hours work.

This suggestion was on the table until two days ago, when head striker Kevin Brennan was able to procure former work-day conditions at a ten cent hourly wage loss.

“They give us one thing and take away another,” employee Steve Quigley said.

Doug Silver, out on worker’s compensation for weeks, has felt the brunt of the company’s already implemented changes. According to Quigley, Silver has accumulated significant hospital fees from his wife’s brain cancer treatment and his own injury. He is faced with the thirty day limit to worker’s compensation, which has already passed, Quigley said.

Production continues

Necco limits the striking workers to three locations around the factory: one at the corner of Landsdowne and Mass Ave, one at a service entrance on Landsdowne Street, and one at the parking lot entrance on Albany Street. The company is required to have a police detail at each spot, costing Necco fifty dollars an hour per officer. Necco press representative Lori Zimbalatti would not comment on the amount of money the company loses in production income caused by the machinists’ absence.

“I’m not going to discuss any specifics, but we’re hopeful that we will reach a compromise soon,” Zimbalatti said.

The company has continued production by using supervisors to run machines. According to Stevarcor, the company had been operating illegally until they had to receive a representative from the Department of Public Safety who visits the plant accompanied by a state trooper.

“The number of workers varies with the time of year, so now, since we’re gearing up for the Christmas/Valentine’s Day season, it’s almost five hundred,” Zimbalatti said.

Of these five hundred, approximately twenty-two are machinists. This number dwindled from thirty because of workers out on injury compensation or those who have transferred to the company’s Haviland location, Quigley said.

Machinists demand same benefits

The machinists, however, are among the workers who are employed year-round. The seasonal work force consists mainly of those in the Bakery, Confectionary, and Tobacco workers’ union.

The BCT signed its renegotiated contract with management earlier this year.

According to Quigley, the company uses the machinists’ higher wages as an excuse not to extend the same health care benefits to them.

“Negotiations are ongoing, but Necco will not give any specifics at this point,” Zimbalatti said.

“Why they don’t extend the benefits they already give to four hundred other workers to just twenty more -- that’s a good question,” Stevarcor said.

“At this point we’re just anxious for a settlement,” Zimbalatti said.

Community gives quiet support

According to Quigley, most of the support for the strikers comes from their local union chapter, though “a few girls from MIT” have helped to carry sandwich signs and frequent honks from passersby indicate general goodwill towards the cause of the machinists.

“We haven’t received any [complaint] calls,” Zimbalatti said of community feelings towards the strikers. “The last strike [at Necco] was in 1962. I can’t say much except that we are very anxious to see things resolved.”

“We’re going to stick this thing out for as long as it takes,” Quigley said.