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Somerville workers OK new contract after five-day strike

Posted by Travis Andersen  December 15, 2009 12:39 PM

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Workers at a hospital linen plant in Somerville have ratified a new labor contract that gives them higher wages, expanded health coverage, and a better pension deal, six days after launching a strike.

Workers for the Atlanta-based Angelica Corp. ratified the contract on Tuesday, by a margin of 231-3.

Over 400 workers had picketed outside the plant daily from 6 a.m. until midnight since last Thursday, demanding a $1 increase to all hourly wages, an increase to the employer coverage of the family health plan from 73 percent to 85 percent, and an increase to the employer hourly payout to the pension plan from 10 cents to 30 cents by 2012.

The union canceled the Monday evening picket in anticipation of the vote.

The workers received some concessions but didn't get everything, according to Fernando Lemus, a representative for the strikers’ United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 1445.

He said the contract gives workers an hourly pay raise of about 45 cents next year, and 40 cents in 2011 and 2012. The average hourly rate at present is $9.46, Lemus said.

As for health benefits, the company agreed to cover 80 percent of a family plan, and provide $250 per week in maternity leave coverage for up to 12 weeks, according to Lemus.

He added that Angelica agreed to an hourly payment of 20 cents to the pension plan in 2010, bumping it up to 30 cents by 2012.

"We're very pleased and happy to hear that it's over," Lemus said, adding that employees will return to work at the plant on 30 Innerbelt Road on Wednesday morning.

Steve O'Hara, Angelica's president and CEO, said the company was pleased with the agreement.

"We're very happy that our workers won't have to spend the holidays out on strike," O'Hara said. "We welcome them back and we look forward to working with them during the duration of this contract."

Patricia Montes, head of the immigrant advocacy group Centro Presente, which has an office across the street from the plant and helped with the strike, said her group would continue to fight for immigrant workers. The Angelica workers in Local 1445 are predominantly Latino immigrants.

"These companies are going to continue exploiting the immigrant workers," Montes said.

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