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Striking workers voting on new contract in Somerville

Posted by Travis Andersen  December 14, 2009 06:00 PM

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Travis Andersen photo

A union member leads Angelica workers in a chant on Monday.

More than 400 workers are scheduled to vote today on a new contract after reaching a tentative agreement last night with Angelica Corp., which makes hospital linens, following a five-day strike.

The workers have picketed outside the Somerville plant daily from 6 a.m. until midnight since Thursday, demanding better wages and health care coverage, as well as a larger employer contribution to the pension plan.

The union canceled last night's picketing, in anticipation of today's vote.

Fernando Lemus, a representative for the strikers' United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 1445, said the Atlanta-based company was urged to raise all wages by $1 an hour (the current average, he said, is $9.46) pay at least 85 percent of the cost of a family health care plan (versus 73 percent now), and contribute 20 cents per hour to the pension plan immediately (versus 10 cents currently) and 30 cents by 2012.

Jim Ducker, Angelica's senior vice president, said he could not disclose terms of the contract offer.

Lemus said the union voted unanimously to strike on Dec. 1, after contract negotiations stalled.

They had begun in October, with Angelica offering employees with at least five years of service a signing bonus of $400, Lemus said.

He said members were willing to "sacrifice this Christmas" in exchange for better wages and benefits in the future. "The cost of living is so high," he said.

Boston resident Rosalina Barros started working at Angelica about 18 months ago. She said the staff deserves better compensation.

'They make you work hard with a lot of machines," Barros said.

On Monday afternoon, about 100 workers chanted, marched, and greeted supply trucks coming and going with a steady chorus of boos. The company used non-union workers during the strike, according to Lemus.

Mirian Alvarez, of Malden, said in Spanish that she was striking for "better benefits, better treatment, and a better salary."

Patricia Montes, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group Centro Presente, which is located across the street and helping with the strike, said Congressman Michael Capuano and members of the city's State House delegation are backing the union.

"We're supporting the struggle," Montes said.

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