Update, March 8, 2023: Hickey Freeman and the Rochester Regional Joint Board (RRJB) of Workers United announced they have amicably resolved all matters. A new healthcare plan offers union employees a better package of benefits. The company is up-to-date on healthcare contributions, 401k contributions and outstanding dues under its collective bargaining agreement. The union’s charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board has been withdrawn.
Original story, Jan. 30, 2023: Roughly 90 union workers at Hickey Freeman may find themselves without health insurance come Wednesday, the result of the longtime clothing maker being delinquent in paying its workers’ health benefits, its union announced Jan. 26.
Hickey Freeman is more than $3 million delinquent in employer and employee healthcare contributions owed to the Amalgamated National Health Fund, the Rochester Regional Joint Board (RRJB) of Workers United said via a press release that accused the company of the theft of workers’ wages. The fund recently alerted the union that workers’ health insurance will be terminated on January 31 due to the company’s delinquency.
As part of a collective bargaining agreement with its union, Hickey Freeman deducts health benefit contributions and union dues, and also makes 401k contributions based on workers’ pay. The company is also in arrears in contributions to the workers’ 401K accounts and in forwarding the dues it collected from employees to the union, said Gary Bonadonna Jr., manager of the Rochester Regional Joint Board.
“We have represented workers at Hickey Freeman for nearly 100 years and have historically had agreat relationship with the company,” Bonadonna said. “The fact that the current owners are now stealing workers wages, which should be going towards their healthcare and contractual benefits, is disgusting. We’re pursuing every remedy at our disposal and won’t rest until the workers receive justice.”
Hickey Freeman acknowledged it is behind on contributions to health benefits, but said that employee contributions, which are a fraction of the total, are not outstanding. It sent this statement by email:
“HFTC has been proud owners of the Hickey Freeman factory for almost 10 years. Over that time, we have invested significantly in the business. We have never stolen worker wages and the very notion that we would is defamatory.
It is true we have arrears to our health benefits provider incurred primarily during the pandemic when most of our sales were wiped out; we are working tirelessly to make sure coverage does not lapse.
We have had a very good relationship with the union for almost 10 years and we are shocked at their behaviour now. But we are working closely with them to address the situation.”
Hickey Freeman, which dates back to 1899, is the last remaining garment manufacturer in Rochester. Over the years it has gone through a succession of parent companies, the most recent of which has been Grano Retail’s Luxury Men’s Apparel Group, led by CEO Stephen Granovsky. The company currently employs 215 people, according to Hickey Freeman. Roughly 190 are union, and of those, roughly 90 are covered by health insurance.
The company has received substantial governmental aid over the past several years. Among them: a $4 million loan-to-grant from the state, along with $500,000 from the city, announced in February 2019 when the company announced plans to invest $8 million and create at least 80 jobs. The company employed 420 at the time.
During the pandemic, the company’s business dropped by more than 75%. By 2021, the company had cut half its workforce and downsized its factory. But in a October 2021 press conference led by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, the company said it planned to add 100 jobs and Schumer saw a place for the company to be an onshore supplier for PPE.
Schumer, a longtime supporter of Hickey Freeman, said his office has been in touch with Hickey Freeman union workers and with federal regulators to look into the allegations. “Senator Schumer has urged the feds to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible,” said Schumer spokeswoman Allison Biasotti.
The union has been working to figure out a temporary solution for workers’ healthcare, Bonadonna said. The Rochester Regional Joint Board (RRJB) of Workers United also has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against Hickey Freeman and is pursuing arbitration to reclaim the money.
“It’s an iconic company here,” Bonadonna said. “Everyone wants to see this company succeed — including the union.”
From 2019:Hickey Freeman to invest $8M, create 80 jobs
From 2021:President Joe Biden’s swearing-in ensemble made in Rochester
From 2021Hickey Freeman downsizing its plant. The rest will be converted to housing
More:Hickey Freeman to add 100 jobs; Schumer sees opportunity for more by onshoring PPE production
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Hickey Freeman, union reach agreement on healthcare plan and dues