After the federal immigration raid on New Bedford’s Michael Bianco Inc. factory this March dissolved into a fiasco, state politicians voiced their passionate dedication to ensuring that Massachusetts employers do not exploit their workers.
That passion has been less evident now that there’s reason to put it to the test. Enterprise Rent-A-Car employees in East Boston called for a boycott of the company in late June, but have drawn little local political help for their effort.
Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry have sent letters of support to the Enterprise workers, but, so far, only a few die-hard progressives in the state legislature — most notably Pat Jehlen, Denise Provost, and Martin Walsh — have done the same.
The employees, most of whom are immigrants, have been complaining for more than a year about the exact kinds of wage and safety abuses that are supposedly so upsetting to the pols: unsafe working conditions, discriminatory hiring and promotion practices, violations of state wage laws, and harassment of workers. They’ve even gone to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley with their grievances, but don’t feel that enough has been done to force change.
Tensions really peaked in late May, though, when the workers tried to form a union — not a precedent Enterprise wants to set just now, as the company concludes the purchase of competitors National Car Rental and Alamo, a move that will make it the biggest player in the US car-rental market.
Within two weeks, Enterprise’s East Boston office announced plans to outsource a host of jobs to a Texas-based staffing firm. The workers call it retaliation; the company calls it coincidence.
Some union supporters would like the state to threaten to yank away its contract with Enterprise at Logan Airport. “Past administrations have effectively ignored existing laws on the books that give the state the right to debar a contractor, when health and safety rights are being ignored,” says Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health.
Legislators are now seeking to do just that to Bechtel Corporation for its Big Dig abuses. In this case, Goldstein-Gelb argues, that lever could be used in time to actually do some good.