In 1987 Richard Beauregard got a job as a band saw operator at the Nichols & Stone furniture company in Gardner. Nichols & Stone was a union shop, and so a co-worker approached Richard about signing a union card and paying dues. Richard recalls the exchange:
“What do you mean I got to join the union?” Richard said.
“You gotta join the union,” responded his co-worker.
“What if I don’t want to join?,” he asked.
“Well then you can’t work here,” his co-worker replied.
“I mean I was making good money, so I joined the union.” said Richard. “If you’re gonna make me join something, I’m gonna find out something about it.” Richard got involved in his local — IUE 81-154 — and in 2003 he was the shop chairperson for IUE at Nichols & Stone helping negotiate the contract.
In 2003 no one at the negotiating table knew that would be the final IUE Local 81-154 contact with a Gardner furniture maker. Nichols & Stone closed its doors in 2008 after 150 years of production.
“I haven’t heard anybody say that Nichols & Stone closed because of the union,” said Richard. “You often hear that union places close – ‘Ah the union … demands far too much.’ But at the end we took cuts. We didn’t take the raises that we were entitled to. So it wasn’t the union that forced them out. I’m glad I haven’t heard that.”
These recollections are from a 2009 interview with Richard and his wife, Millie, that are currently being printed as part of a series of oral histories about Nichols & Stone at the Chair City Community Workshop. Mass. Community College Council (Massachusetts Teachers Association) member and part-time community college instructor Tracie Pouliot collected the oral history interviews a year after Nichols & Stone closed. She runs the community workshop, where volunteers use the printing and book arts to celebrate the stories of working people in Gardner.
The oral history series includes interviews with people from throughout Nichols & Stone, including managers, the back office, the front office, and the factory floor.
Jonathan Dudley, a Head Start teacher and member of SEIU Local 888, volunteers at the Chair City Community Workshop. “I actually transcribed Richard and Millie’s interview. And one of the staffers at my local agreed to do some editing on it in his spare time,” said Dudley, who works for the Montachusetts Opportunity Council.
Next, he said, “volunteers will print the interview on our letterpress. We even set some of the type by hand.” After the interview is printed, volunteers sit together and bind each oral history into a book by hand.
“Especially when we’re sitting around binding the books, it is a great opportunity to talk about the issues raised in the stories – like why do we think furniture factories closed in Gardner and how deindustrialization has affected our small city,” said Dudley. After 400 copies of each oral history book are printed and bound, the community workshop holds a book-release party to celebrate the interviewees and the volunteers who worked on that oral history. Later, there is an informal book discussion, where community members can dive into the issues raised by each story.
Richard and Millie’s oral history is not specifically about the union at Nichols & Stone, but it is an account by two working people about their experience working in the furniture industry and trying to understand why a 150-year-old company shuts its doors, as well as how a factory closing like that affects a person.
The Chair City Oral History Book Series is community run — and depends on volunteers coming in and helping produce the oral history books. “I would be very excited to have a bunch of people who care about working-class history or are interested in unions to come in and help us finish Richard and Millie’s book,” said Dudley. “You don’t need any experience to help, someone will train you on the spot. If you volunteer three hours, you can have a copy of Richard and Mille’s book; or if you don’t like the work, you can always sit around the community workshop and share your own experiences.”
The Chair City Community Workshop is located at 306 Central St. in downtown Gardner. “All Are Welcome,” reads a small broadside printed by a letterpress shop in St. Petersburg, Florida, shortly after the 2016 elections. For more information or to find out the hours for the community workshop, visit traciepouliot.com and click on Chair City Oral History Project.
Brandeis librarians were joined by more than 50 supporters at a lunch time rally on Dec. 3. The librarians are demanding a fair contract and, accompanied by several supporters, delivered letters of support from the wider university community. On the cold windy day, speakers led the sign-waving group in chants calling for fair contract.
“All we’re asking is to be treated with dignity and the acknowledgment that we do important work,” said librarian Joanna Fuchs. “We love our jobs and want everybody in this community to be a success.”
“First as a student, and now as an faculty member, I want to say that the librarians have been there for me — on off hours and on short notice,” said Drew Flanagan, a Brandeis English lecturer and shop steward for the adjunct professors union, SEIU Local 509. Flanagan said that he had delivered letters of support to the Brandeis administration on behalf of Local 509 members, and urged others to voice their support for the librarians.
“Having a fair union contract is a basic right – and being able to be respected at your job is a basic right,” said Alina Sipp-Alpers, a sophomore at the school and member of the Brandeis Labor Coalition. Noting the many testimonials in praise of librarians’ role at Brandeis, she added that students and the labor coalition were “a part of the librarians’ fight for a contract!”
A small group of representatives left the rally to deliver more letters of support to university officials inside the administration building, where the rally was held.
“We sent a powerful message to the administration,” said librarian Aimee Slater when the group returned to the rally. She added that the librarians “will be there to support anyone else going through this kind of struggle.”
Slater, a member of the Local 888 negotiating team, emphasized the protest did not mean there would be an upcoming interruption in library service. “We want to help all of you students as you go through your exams.”
The librarians have been locked in a contract dispute since June. And the administration has refused to bargain fairly.
“So far, we’ve been the ones to reach across the bargaining table seeking to come to an agreement,” said Surella Seelig, a librarian and member of the bargaining team. “But the university has just been playing games, making it sound as if there’s been movement on their part.”
However, the library staff have successfully gained support from students, parents and the wider Brandeis community. In October, the librarians set up a table at the Brandeis Family Weekend – educating students and parents about their fight for a fair contract.
For its part, the Brandeis Labor Coalition has written in support of the librarians in the Brandeis Hoot, the community newspaper.
Click here to email or call Brandeis University President Ronald Liebowitz with a message of support for the librarians.
The race for the Northern Berkshire District Register of Deeds was all in the Local 888 family. And only one candidate could win.
Local 888 member Maria Ziemba racked up a 3-to-1 victory running as a Democrat against longtime Local 888 member Deborah Moran, running as an independent.
“I’m on Cloud 9,” Ziemba told The Berkshire Eagle on election night. “Tonight has proven that people have responded to my campaign, and I am forever grateful.”
Ziemba got 10,872 votes, while Moran netted 3,535. Similarly to her opponent, Ziemba has worked her way up from being hired as a junior clerk more than 20 years ago. The position became open because current Register of Deeds Frances Brooks is retiring.
Ziemba said she plans to continue computerization projects the office has already begun. After 1985, the registry put its data onto computers. But the office, located in Adams, has about 220,000 index cards with the records of property sales, one set for sellers and the other for buyers. Completing this project would, for the first time, make these sales searchable by computer.
The office, which only has six employees, has so far processed about 10,000 file cards.
Local 888’s Executive Board endorsed a Yes vote on Massachusetts ballot questions 1, 2 and 3. All but the first ballot question sailed to victory.
QUESTION 1: More than 70 percent of voters rejected the ballot measure, which would have set limits on the number of patients that nurses could be required to care for. For example, emergency room RNs could care for no more than five patients at a time, fewer depending on a patient’s condition. California provides a successful example of enacting such a law.
The ballot question was put forward by the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care.
Opponents of the measure, including the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, then named their industry-backed group the Coalition to Protect Patient Safety – a name that was confusing and seemed to defy common sense. Hospitals spent $25 million on their campaign, more than twice the union’s $12 million, according to The Boston Globe.
QUESTION 2: Over 71 percent of the voters approved the measure, which calls for a state commission to write a report on money in politics. The goal is to support and ultimately enact a campaign finance amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling, which removed many campaign-finance limits and allowed billion-dollar corporations to make unlimited political donations.
QUESTION 3: More than two-thirds of the voters approved keeping in place a 2016 state law that prohibits discrimination against transgender people in places open to the public — including restaurants, hospitals, hotels and sports stadiums. Under the law, transgender people can use a space, such as restrooms, that matches their gender identity. Since the law took effect, there has been no increase in safety incidents in places such as bathrooms.
“Too many of our legislators have demonstrated a go-along to get-along behavior,” said state Rep.-elect Nika Elugardo. “With me, you’ll have an advocate.”
At the Local 888 convention, Elugardo thanked the union for its endorsement in the general election and talked about the importance of supporting American workers.
“Housing should be a right for everyone,” she added. “We have to have health care for all — not the situation we have now, where some people can’t afford it.”
The Jamaica Plain resident toppled state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, in the Democratic primary. It was his committee that, in effect, killed legislation allowing the Massachusetts public defenders the collective bargaining rights that other state workers enjoy.
Elugardo has been a strong supporter of raising the minimum wage to $15. She ran on a platform that included:
MassCOSH ANNUAL MEETING: Thurs., Dec. 6, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Voting at 7:15 p.m. Cash bar, light bites, good friends. Democracy Brewing, 35 Temple Place, downtown Boston.
WREATH-LAYING TO HONOR VETERANS: Sat., Dec. 15, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., family-friendly event at the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery, 1390 Main St., Agawam. The goal is to ensure that every veteran buried at the cemetery gets a wreath. Part of the Wreaths Across America program; a family friendly event. To sponsor a wreath, at $15 each, donate at https://donate.wreathsacrossamerica.org/ .
City of Boston Fuel Assistance
Visit the SEIU Local 888 website for a “City of Boston – SEIU Local 888 Housing Trust Application and Affidavit for Fuel Assistance.” Grants are up to $500; income cap is $56,800 for a household of 1. For more info, call the Local 888 office at 617-241-3300.