More than 100 Southwick factory workers, clad in red and holding signs with phrases like "Justice for Garment Workers" and "Clothing Workers Count,'' marched on Computer Drive and Route 97 last week.
They were demanding severance pay and other benefits from the national menswear brand Brooks Brothers. The clothing company is declaring bankruptcy, closing the Southwick factory in Haverhill and leaving its 413 workers jobless and with no severance packages.
Chris Currier, a Southwick general operator who lives in Lawrence, last clocked in to work on March 9.
"I have a family to support, a mortgage,'' he said. "It's hard to describe.''
State Reps. Lenny Mirra, Linda Dean Campbell and Andy Vargas, along with members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, were among those who supported workers as they marched last Wednesday onto Route 97 and stood for about 20 minutes, chanting in both English and Spanish and holding signs in both languages, as passing drivers honked in recognition.
Warren Pepicelli, manager of the UNITE HERE union that represents Southwick workers, said Brooks Brothers was invited to send representatives to the gathering, but refused to attend.
"They refuse to meet with us in public," said Pepicelli, who was wearing a Brooks Brothers suit.
Pepicelli said employees are seeking severance pay and an extension on health insurance.
A Brooks Brothers spokesperson said the union leader representing Southwick employees did "negotiate and sign" its most recent collective bargaining agreement, including a provision that requires the company to provide benefits including health care while employees are on furlough. The Southwick factory officially closes July 20 and health care for employees will be paid through July 31, the spokesperson said.
While Brooks Brothers employees at factories in New York and North Carolina received severance, Haverhill employees did not, the spokesperson said. All Brooks Brothers factories are expected to close by Aug. 15, according to a company statement.
At last week's rally, Vargas was among those to demand Southwick compensate its workers. He delivered his remarks in both English and Spanish, telling employees how Brooks Brothers received hefty tax breaks from both the city and state to do business in Haverhill.
"We welcomed Brooks Brothers to the community. We were proud to say immigrants from all backgrounds and cultures were working on their suits," Vargas said. "That's why we supported this company, but they haven't extended that support back to you. At the very least, they should give you respect, dignity and justice."
Vargas said the state Economic Assistance Coordinating Council approved $2.1 million in Economic Development Incentive investment tax credits for Southwick when it moved to Haverhill from Lawrence. The company also entered into a TIF (tax increment financing) agreement with Haverhill, which provided a considerable tax break in exchange for doing business in the city.
Mayor James Fiorentini has asked Attorney General Maura Healey to take a closer look at the TIF agreements and "all other state tax incentives and tax credits" granted to Brooks Brothers and Southwick in the wake of the July 8 bankruptcy filing.
"When you look at the facts, this is simply a matter of greed," Campbell said. "The workers are standing up, not only for themselves and workers everywhere. What they're asking for is fair and just and they shouldn't budge."
A 36-year employee, Diane Robinson, knows what it's like to be in it for the long haul. Robinson, who lives in Lawrence, has worked as a stitcher for Southwick, first in Lawrence and now in Haverhill.
"It's very hard. A lot of us have families to support," Robinson said. "We followed the company, stayed with them, and we're going down with the ship. They're telling us 'Too bad.' People are hopeful but we're upset to be out here in this trying time with this virus. We have a lot of older workers. It's disheartening. "