Former Colibri Workers Arrested at Auction

Colibri workers arrested, photo by The Providence JournalA total of 14 protesters were arrested Thursday in an unsuccessful attempt to block an auction of the assets of The Colibri Group, The Providence Journal reports.

The East Providence, R.I.-based jewelry manufacturer closed down on Jan. 15 without warning, leaving 280 employees without jobs. Its brands were Colibri, Seth Thomas, Linden Clocks, Dolan Bullock, Krementz, Movado, Darling Diamonds, and Tonino Lamborghini.

While the invitation-only auction went on inside the jewelry company’s former plant off Waterman Avenue, more than 100 people, including former employees and members of labor and workers’ rights groups, picketed in front, accusing the owners of dumping faithful employees and breaking a federal law requiring worker notification of layoffs and plant closings, the newspaper reports.

A focus of the demonstration was Founders Equity Inc., the New York investment company,which along with two other private equity firms, bought control of Colibri in June 2005, the newspaper reports. The former employees and their supporters say the company broke federal law by not giving notice before closing the factory and not paying them.

The demonstration, which ended about noon, was noisy but peaceful, a police official told the newspaper, adding that those arrested were charged with disturbing the peace or refusing to move, and that they were all released by late afternoon.

The company’s workers included designers, toolmakers, other skilled craftsmen and shipping workers, the newspaper reports. Several said they were proud of their jobs and liked working for Colibri until they arrived that morning in January and found the plant locked up and their jobs gone.

The employees and their supporters said they were angry that the auction proceeds would go to the company’s creditors, not to the employees who are struggling to support their families during a recession, the newspaper reports.

The federal law the workers cited, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, usually referred to as the WARN Act, generally covers companies with more than 100 employees and requires that they give employees and state officials 60 days’ notice of plant closings or major layoffs. With some exceptions, employers who don’t give notice must give their former workers back pay and benefits. That’s what the Colibri workers say they will seek in federal court, the newspaper reports.

A state Department of Labor and Training spokeswoman told the newspaper Thursday that Colibri did file a notice on Feb. 19 that it was closing the plant. The filing was apparently more than a month late.

For The Providence Journal story, click here.

For more JCK stories on The Colibri Group closing and other background information, click here.