WESTERLY – A “mass layoff … will take place in 60 days” at the The Bradford Dyeing Association Inc., President Michael R. Grills said today in a statement that also raised the possibility the company might leave the Ocean State.
“The exact number of employees who will be affected by this decision remains unclear – however, it will be many,” Grills said. He cited rising energy costs, the company’s May 15 fire (READ MORE), and a contract dispute with Unite Here! Local 431T as among the reasons for the decision.
“We were forced to outsource our Bleach House operations, due to the fire that occurred here last May,” Grills said, “and may now be forced to give up additional work if we fail to get our costs in line.
“An attempt to work with the local union leadership on changing outdated and rigid job rules that conflict with our productivity goals has failed [despite] their full knowledge that their wage and benefit package would not be touched. That package alone costs the company an average of nearly $50,000 per employee per year.
“Also, the escalating costs of energy … along with the continued uncertainty … has plagued our operations,” he said, citing oil prices that have nearly tripled in the past two years.
“We are proud of Bradford’s long successful history, and are confident that it will continue to succeed,” Grills said. “What hangs in the balance is whether that success will continue in Rhode Island, or if Bradford will follow the path of dozens of other Rhode Island manufacturers.”
Either way, he said, “Bradford will continue to look for ways to maintain its significant position in the military fabrics market.”
Bradford Dye officials declined to respond to further queries. But the textile workers’ union, Unite Here!, contested Grills’ account, saying the company president was the one who walked out of their contract talks.
“What they wanted to do is eliminate jobs,” Carlos Visinho, business manager of Unite Here!’s regional office in Boston, told Providence Business News in a Feb. 7 telephone interview.
Initially, he recalled, the company approached the union: “Mike Grills explained to the members that he is in a little trouble.” But the workers at Bradford didn’t want to reopen the contract; their first vote was tied, 53 to 53, which meant no action.
Then union representatives also spoke with Local 431T, urging them to reconsider – and when they voted again, the members approved talks with Bradford Dye, Visinho said. “We’re willing to do whatever it takes to make this company survive, including cross-training, working on more than one machine,” he said.
But the negotiations broke down in early January, when Grills walked away from the table, the union executive said. “I myself told the company, there are certain things we can talk about and certain things we cannot talk about,” Visinho said. “They want to take the printers and make them all management, take them out of the bargaining unit,” and bring in non-union workers to do the jobs of some of the union members.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the company now,” Visinho said. “We didn’t give up yet. We are hopeful the company will come back and sit down to save those 44 union jobs.”
The company currently has about 160 workers, after laying off 48 in early November, citing the May fire and competition from abroad.
The Bradford Dyeing Association Inc., founded in 1911, employs about 200 workers at its plant in the Bradford section of Westerly. The company specializes in the printing, coating and finishing of camouflage and other specialty fabrics. In 1995, it established Bradford Fabrics Inc. to market its products to the military, law enforcement, hunting and health care sectors. Additional information is available at www.bdadye.com.
Unite Here! represents more than 450,000 active members and more than 400,000 retirees across North America. For more information, visit www.unitehere.org.