The Colibri Group, which makes high-end lighters and other men's accessories, went out of business and closed its East Providence, R.I. assembly plant back in January. CST Enterprises bought the product line.
But the 280 non-union workers who used to assemble these products say they were left out in the cold. They are demanding 60 days worth of pay and benefits, including two months worth of healthcare coverage, under the federal WARN act. They held a protest at the auction of the plant in March and 13 of them were arrested for disorderly conduct.
Colibri owed $24 million to its creditors, HSBC and Sovereign Bank. Even after the auction of the plant and other assets, the creditors are still out nearly $8 million, according to court-appointed receiver Allan Shine of Winograd, Shine and Zacks PC. "There still is a substantial shortfall," he said. "There is a virtual certainty that there will be no recovery for anyone other than the banks."
Fuerza Laboral, a group representing the former workers, connected them with a pro bono attorney that sued Founders Equity, the former shareholders of Colibri, for violating the WARN act, which requires a 60-day notice before a factory shutdown.
"Many had have been working there for 10, 20, up to 37 years," said Fuerza Laboral director Greg Pehrson. "In addition to be thrown into financial turmoil by being put out of work, many of them were thrown into emotional turmoil. They are continuing to fight not just for themselves, but to see changes made in labor laws for all workers."
Shirley Samayoa, a 27-year employee at Colibri who was arrested at the protest, said that Founders Equity and the receiver, who was paid a fee, should not have priority over the workers in being reimbursed.
"We wanted to demonstrate that you have Founders Equity that is robbing workers of their benefits, and they are allowed to get away with it," she said.
Founders Equity did not respond to messages.