Long tenure, limited English may make it hard to find new jobs

By Adam Smith, Sampan

July 15, 2005 – About 40 Chinese and Latino immigrant workers are bracing for a pending layoff from a South Boston athletic clothing manufacturer, and are demanding severance pay as well as advance notice of the company’s closing.

Proman Manufacturing Company, however, has said in a letter that it will not give severance pay and is not legally obligated to. Proman also said there will be no advanced notice of the company’s closing. Joseph Proman, owner of the company, could not be reached by phone for this story.

Workers said they received no formal notice of the pending closing from their boss, but instead accidentally overheard the news. When they confronted Proman, he confirmed that the 61-year-old company would close soon, said workers through the Chinese Progressive Association. The Chinatown association is assisting workers with severance negotiations. It said the workers feared they would not get paid for their July 4 vacation because they did not receive the pay prior to taking the week vacation as usual.

On July 11, after returning from holiday, the workers planned to stage a work-stoppage in protest, but quickly resumed work after Proman told them to leave. Soon after, said the association, police arrived at the company.

Because many of the employees speak no English and have been with the company for several years, the association fears they will have difficulty finding new jobs. The association has called on Proman to give employees one week of severance pay for every year of work at the company and to assist them in finding job-training. In addition, the Chinese Progressive Association has asked Proman to give the employees 60-days notice of the company’s closing.

In a letter to the association, Proman said he will “pay all wages earned by its employees as required by law” and that he would cooperate with government agencies to help workers have their entitled benefits. But he said he would not pay any severance because the employees are “at will.” He also said he would not give 60-days advance notice.

The letter said Proman Manufacturers is losing money because of competition from China and that it has no money for severance pay.

The Chinese Progressive Association suggested it wants proof that Proman cannot afford to pay severance to workers who made between $6 and $11 per hour. The association, along with several other groups such as Jobs With Justice, held a protest outside the company Friday.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Labor, employers are not required to offer severance.

One long-time Proman worker, an immigrant from El Salvador, expressed disappointment with the company.

“I worked very hard for the guy, as if the business was mine,” said the employee, who did not want to be named. “He hid from us and kept this information (about the pending closing) from us so we wouldn’t leave.”


Adam Smith is English Editor of the Boston-based Sampan, New England’s only Chinese-English newspaper, published since 1972 by the Asian American Civic Association of Boston.

This article was originally published in Sampan, and appears here with permission.  Please do not reproduce without seeking permission of the copyright holder.

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