Local 888 member Jonathan Dudley is helping to save — and honor — the hard work and civic contributions of furniture workers in Gardner, known as the “Chair City” and “The Furniture Capital of New England” due to its manufacturing history
Dudley is currently working at the Chair City Community Workshop on oral histories connected to the furniture company Nichols & Stone (See https://www.instagram.com/tracie.pouliot/ ). At the time it closed in 2008, Nichols & Stone blamed the Great Recession “along with a flood of low price/low quality imports” for closing its Gardner plant.
Mount Wachusett Community College instructor Tracie Pouliot collected the interviews a year after Gardner’s Nichols & Stone closed. Pouliot runs the community workshop, where volunteers use the printing and book arts to celebrate the stories of the working people in Gardner.
Dudley, a Head Start teacher at the Montachusett Opportunity Council, volunteers at the community workshop and has transcribed furniture workers’ interviews. After the interview is printed, volunteers sit together and bind each oral history by hand into a book.
“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.
LOOK FOR UNION CARDS: SEIU Local 888 will be sen ding out membership cards through the mail in yellow envelopes. So, be on the lookout!
Due to the Christmas Holiday, the SEIU Local 888 office will be closed on 12/24/2018 and 12/25/2018
For the New Year’s holiday, Local 888 will be closed 12/31/2018 and 1/1/2019
On behalf of the SEIU Local 888 E-Board, Officers and Staff, we wish everyone a safe and joyful holiday and Happy New Year.
Pictured below are many of the Local 888 staff after an all staff meeting.
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.