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New Era Cap Co. is proposing new quotas for its Buffalo plant, 11 weeks after a similar move sparked a strike at its factory in Derby.

Like Derby, the 450-worker Buffalo plant makes baseball style caps under a piece-work system that links workers' pay to their output.

But unlike Derby, which is represented by the Communications Workers of America, the Buffalo plant isn't represented by an AFL-CIO union. Its independent union lacks a strike fund or ties with national labor organizations.

Company officials said they don't expect the Derby strike to spread to Buffalo.

"We're never looking for a strike," said Peter Augustine, chief operating officer. "We're trying our best to make these negotiations successful." The contract at the Buffalo facility expires in early November.

Leaders of the independent union at the plant on Myrtle Avenue didn't return calls Friday seeking comment. Some workers there who wouldn't give their names said that fliers describing the quotas have appeared around the plant.

"They (management) will get their way," said one.

The new quotas should raise the plant's productivity, but demands on workers aren't necessarily being increased, Augustine said. Production goals will rise in some departments and fall in others, he said. At Derby, the company set a base wage of $9.10 an hour that's contingent on meeting production levels that are specific for each job.

Company officials said they wouldn't discuss the details of the proposal at Buffalo because negotiations are continuing.

The walkout at Derby began when New Era unilaterally implemented new quotas on July 16, after months of bargaining failed to produce a new contract.

In a development in the Derby strike last week, labor regulators dropped key charges the union had made against the company. The National Labor Relations Board has dismissed charges that the company bargained in bad faith and declared an impasse prematurely, regional director Sandra Dunbar said.

But workers' solidarity continues to hold strong, said Jason Kozlowski, secretary of Communications Workers of America Local 14177. In addition to receiving $300 a week in strike pay, some strikers are finding part-time work or attending school, he said.

The union held a rally Thursday attended by about 300 people, many of them supporters from other unions, he said. Police put the turnout at about 200.

"It was to keep peoples' spirits high, and give people a lot of credit for staying strong," Kozlowski said.

One man who attended the rally was arrested after blocking the passage of a bus carrying workers who are crossing the union's picket line, Town of Evans Police
Lt. Samuel DeJohn said. Denis Moquin, 53, of Derby was charged with assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, DeJohn said. Moquin didn't work at New Era. Police are also investigating a complaint that a worker's car was damaged, he said.

Of New Era's approximately 300 unionized production workers in Derby, 76 are ignoring the strike and crossing the picket line, according to the company.

The CWA has also filed a police complaint charging that a company security guard elbowed a picket in the face, Kozlowski said.

Lt. DeJohn said he was aware of the complaint against a security guard, but no charges are contemplated.

Since the strike began, "none of the security people have been arrested -- they are all professional police officers from other departments," he said.

Two other pickets in addition to Moquin have been charged with disorderly conduct in picketing incidents in past weeks, he said.

With no talks scheduled, the picket line is the only place union and company officials are likely to see each other. Both sides met separately with a federal mediator Aug. 15, but the meetings failed to lead to a resumption of negotiations.

Despite the strike, New Era is increasing production as sales of college and football-oriented caps enter an expected seasonal upturn, Augustine said. In addition to Derby and Buffalo, the company operates two plants in Alabama.


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