The union representing Major League Baseball players is urging the company that makes the caps its members wear to reconsider its plan to shut its factory in Derby next month.
The shutdown of the New Era Cap Co. plant in Derby would put more than 200 workers out of a job as the company shifts production of the hats it makes for Major League Baseball players to Florida and other cap production to third-party manufacturers in places like China, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Haiti, where wages are much lower than they are in Derby.
The Major League Players Association issued a statement on Thursday urging New Era to keep the Derby plant open.
"It has always been a source of great pride for players to wear the highest-quality, union-made caps produced by the New Era workers in Derby," the union said. "The MLBPA urges New Era to reconsider its decision, which will cause economic harm, not just to the dedicated workers who manufacture the caps and to their families, but also to the town of Derby, which has supported the company for nearly 60 years."
— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) February 21, 2019
But neither the company, nor its customer, Major League Baseball, offered any hope Thursday that the plant would stay open.
The statement by the players union comes three days after Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sean Doolittle tweeted his support for the Derby workers. Doolittle's tweets prompted national media, including NBCSports.com and Yahoo Sports, to write about the impending Derby plant shutdown and drew national attention other athletes and politicians. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, wrote to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred this week, urging him to try to save the Derby plant.
“The bottom line is that Major League Baseball caps of our national pastime should continue to be made by experienced, loyal and talented union workers in Western New York, USA. I continue to urge New Era to reconsider this ill-conceived move that is pennywise and pound foolish and will leave 200 productive union workers out of a job,” said U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer.
The players union STATEMENT also caught the eye of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who tweeted "New Era makes $ at its Derby facility, so thanks for standing up to this union busting effort."
New Era, a Buffalo-based company owned by the Koch family, announced in November that it would close the Derby factory. It reached a severance package agreement last week with the Communication Workers of America, the union that represents most of the company’s workers in Derby.
"New Era is one of the last companies in its industry to own and operate manufacturing plants," the company said in a statement Thursday. "New Era’s decision to close the Derby plant is not about chasing lower, ‘non-union’ wages, as has been erroneously reported in the media. The decision reflects a fundamental shift in the company’s business model."
Unionized workers – with an average tenure of 19 years – will receive one week of salary for every year of service, up to 26 weeks. New Era also will keep making its contribution toward employees’ health insurance premiums for five months after the plant closes.
Major League Baseball said it can’t do anything to change New Era’s mind.
“Given that New Era will continue to adhere to all aspects of our contract, is making a strategic shift in its operating model based on the company’s assessment of its industry, and has already signed an agreement with the union, MLB is not an a position to change the outcome of this circumstance,” it said in a statement.
New Era makes about 65 million baseball caps per year. The Derby plant produces up to 4.5 million of those caps annually. The rest are made overseas by third-party manufacturers.
New Era’s agreement with Major League Baseball to provide all of the headwear that players wear on-field during games requires those caps to be made in the United States, so it is shifting production of those caps to a factory in Miami.
New Era CEO Chris Koch said at the time the plant closing was announced that New Era had "an obligation to our employees, partners and customers to ensure the long-term success of this company, and we need to keep pace with changes in our industry.”