U.S. Congressmen Asked to Review Colibri Shutdown

Rhode Island’s two U.S. senators and two congressmen are being asked to see if U.S. law was violated in the sudden shutdown of the Colibri Group and ousting of its 280 employees. President Barack Obama is also being asked to issue a statement sympathetic to the Colibri workers’ situation.

Letters asking are being sent this week to the legislators and the president by Rhode Island state senator Juan M. Pichardo (pictured), who supports the workers (though Colibri isn’t in his district). “Since this concerns a federal law, it’s appropriate to take this to the federal level,” he told JCK in an exclusive interview.

At issue is the 1989 federal WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) Act, which says employers of 100 or more workers must give 60 days’ notice of plant closings and mass layoffs.

Many Colibri employees, displaced when the manufacturer closed Jan. 14 without warning, claim Colibri and Founders Equity, its majority shareholder, ignored the WARN Act and want 60 days of pay and health coverage, plus severance pay.

“I’m asking our Congressional delegation to look into this and see if the WARN Act has been violated, and what additional rights the employees may have,” Pichardo told JCK.

“I’m also writing to the president,” he said. “In his many speeches, he says he believes in people’s rights in the workplace, and he has a sympathetic ear for employees. I would like to see a statement from the president’s office about the WARN Act and expressing support for the workers.”

Though he hadn’t spoken to Founders Equity officials at press time, Pichardo said, he hoped they “will be compassionate to the many employees who worked for Colibri so long,” some for decades.

Colibri, one of America’s best-known suppliers of independent and chain jewelers, unexpectedly closed Jan. 14, blaming “current economic conditions.” It owes two major banks $28 million, plus about $6 million to vendors and creditors.

Colibri’s 280 employees only learned of the shutdown that same day in an evening e-mail from the company or when they came to work Jan. 15, and found doors locked. The company has been in receivership, at the request of Founders Equity, since Jan. 15.

About 250 ousted Colibri workers and supporters, organized by Fuerza Laboral, a local workers’ rights group, rallied Feb. 3 at Colibri’s former East Providence, R.I., headquarters, on a cold and snowy afternoon carrying handmade signs and noisemakers. Greg Pehrson, director of Fuerza laboral, and attorney Alan M. Shine, the court-appointed receiver overeeing  disposal of Colibri’s assets, told them how to file claims for back pay, benefits and severance. Pehrson also urged them to call their state and federal legislators. (For more information, go to www.fuerza-laboral.org or ashine@wszlaw.com.)