For over a year Common Ground has been following the workers at Bob’s Tires in New Bedford, Massachusetts and Eastland Foods, in Cranston, Rhode Island, as they participated in successful United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) organizing drives with the support of Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores (CCT), a New Bedford-based immigrant workers’ center. Both groups are now negotiating first contracts with their employers.

Bob’s Tires and BJ’s Temp Services

Threats and bullying over immigration status has been an issue at Bob’s Tires, ranging from the owner and some truck drivers wearing ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) hats at work, to ICE itself, for unknown reasons, undertaking an audit of employee Social Security numbers at BJ’s Temp Service, which provides workers to Bob’s Tires. This audit violated a longstanding agreement between the Department of Homeland Security, which includes ICE, and the National Labor Relations Board to not investigate workers involved in an ongoing labor dispute. Pressure by the international union and Local 328, along with the AFL-CIO and the National Guestworker Alliance, forced ICE to honor their agreement and quash any further immigration investigation.

Local 328 Director of Organizing Megan Carvalho elaborated on the union’s stance regarding worker immigration status:

"It is the position of the local union and the international union that it is not the job of the union to check immigration status. When workers come to us, we help workers, regardless of status. It is just not something that we care about. As far a we know there are no problems with documentation, because we've never checked this. It is not our job. These are employees. It is the employer's job to check."

On Thursday, October 6th, UFCW Local 328 and CCT held a rally for the Bob’s Tires workers on the steps of City Hall in New Bedford, where speakers including New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell offered their support to the workers.

Joint contract negotiations are ongoing with Bob’s Tires and BJ’s Temp Service, with Carvalho reporting slow but steady progress. She told Common Ground on October 25th, “Through the tumultuous last couple of weeks, the workers have been reminded of their strength and solidarity, and so has their employer.”

Eastland Foods

At Eastland Foods, where the workers joined UFCW last May, progress has been stalled in a dispute over the presence of CCT Executive Director Adrian Ventura on the bargaining committee. As Carvalho explained:

"It is the position of the union that we can have whomever we want at the bargaining table, and the company took the opposite position, and we had to file unfair labor practices. Those charges are continuing to be investigated by the Labor Board, but we will hopefully be back with regular bargaining sessions soon."

Common Ground will keep you posted on further developments in these campaigns.