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Elected, labor leaders protest New Era's decision to close Derby plant

Mark Poloncarz

Angry trade unionists and politicians were outside New Era Cap's headquarters on Delaware Avenue in downtown Buffalo Monday, protesting the company plan to close its plant in Derby and move most production to China.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said New Era has now filed the legally required 60-day notice of the plant closing. In March, more than 200 workers will lose their jobs.

Most production will go to China, while the hats for Major League Baseball will go to a non-union plant in Florida. The baseball contract requires U.S.-manufactured hats.

"Tax breaks for the Derby facility have expired. The tax breaks for this facility (Buffalo) are still ongoing," Poloncarz said. "Those tax breaks were entered into before the county had its recapture policy, which states that if you do not meet the required number of jobs, we could actually take the tax breaks back. So that does not apply to those tax breaks, but there are no tax breaks currently on the Derby facility."

The company is not bargaining with the county executive or the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, even with approaching $2 million in past subsidies. Evans Supervisor Mary Hosler said New Era is not talking to the town about the workers either.

"Yeah, they are making $17-$25 an hour, but they're at piece work, so the faster they work, the more they make. I think that's a fair wage. They're talented people at that plant," Hosler said. "Concession after concession, tax break after tax break, you came to the table, wanted all those things to happen. But now, when we want to talk to you about staying in the Town of Evans, you won't come to the table."

"Shame, shame, shame, shame," protesters chanted outside New Era's downtown headquarters.

Speakers were angry enough that Assembly member Sean Ryan showed a Buffalo Bills cap from New Era, with an American flag stitched on it. Ryan asked the crowd, "When the caps are made in China, will a Chinese flag be stitched to a Bills cap?"

Charmaine Bowman, president of the Buffalo Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, told the protest crowd it is a blow in the holiday season.

"Almost 200 employees and their families are going to be negatively impacted at what's supposed to be the happiest time of the year," Bowman said. "The workers in Florida, who are primarily people of color, are also going to be negatively affected. In particular, African-American women who will be paid at a significantly lower wage than the employees here."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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