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Protesters marched into St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Lowell yesterday, demanding job security for Gillette plant workers.
Protesters marched into St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Lowell yesterday, demanding job security for Gillette plant workers. (Mark Wilson/ Globe Staff)

Gillette plant closing spurs protest

LOWELL -- Banging drums and tooting trumpets, about 100 demonstrators marched through downtown Lowell yesterday, demanding job security for hundreds of temporary workers who pack Gillette razors, shaving cream, and other products.

It was a musical show of displeasure, in a region where economic forces have squeezed former mill cities . Silver-haired pastors, children shaking maracas, union organizers, and activists from local churches joined the parade.

``Let's give people jobs with dignity!" the marchers sang, as they snaked through downtown . ``Benefits and job security!"

Last month, Procter & Gamble Co. said it would close one of Gillette's packing plants at the former Devens military installation by the end of the year, eliminating 100 jobs as part of its plan to consolidate packing and warehouse operations in Greensboro, N.C. But demonstrators said the closure would cost 400 jobs and worried it could signal the demise of the second Gillette plant in Devens and the loss of at least 1,000 more jobs.

``The Merrimack Valley already has a job crisis; closing this plant will make it worse," said Lucia Martinez, 42, a nursing-home worker from Lawrence. She has five siblings who pack Gillette razors, including three sisters , she said.

Demonstrators said they want P&G to give workers who lose their jobs severance pay and guarantee that the company will not shutter its second plant at Devens, a former military installation in Ayer, Harvard, and Shirley.

Marchers said it was an abomination that workers -- some earning less than $8 an hour packing razors into boxes -- could lose their jobs while James M. Kilts, the Gillette chief executive who orchestrated the company's sale to P&G last year, retires in October with a compensation package worth $165 million.

``It's an insult to the community and we're going to fight it," said Annia Lambert, president of the Merrimack Valley Project, a coalition of labor and community groups that organized the rally.

Asked about the possibility of the second Gillette facility closing, Eric Kraus, a P&G spokesman, said, ``There's been no decision made to close this facility -- none -- and I don't talk in hypotheticals, but any discussion about it is unfortunate because it's giving the wrong impression."

Kraus noted that those who are losing their jobs work for Alliance, a packing firm subcontracted by Gillette. ``These are not Gillette workers," Kraus said. ``These are temporary workers and as such there is no severance benefit from Gillette."

Lawrence resident Fabio Morales, 63, who boxes Gillette razors, said yesterday that he felt ``nervous and bad about what they're doing -- not only for my job but for my fellow coworkers. We don't want the plant to close."

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.

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