Community demands workers’ reinstatement at Triangle Inc.

Community members meet with Triangle, Inc. CEO Coleman Nee. © Chris Morrill

MALDEN, MA — Some thirty community members marched into human services contractor Triangle, Inc.’s Malden office Monday morning and called on its CEO to reinstate four terminated workers involved in a union drive.

The delegation of retirees, teamsters, and church volunteers crammed into the entryway and spilled out to the parking lot as they waited for upper management to meet them. The receptionist’s eyes grew wide as she paged Triangle, Inc. CEO Coleman Nee.

The four workers had been leaders in a union drive with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 509 when management let them go. Community supporters are alleging anti-union retaliation.

Over the periodic clanging of Orange Line trains, Nee argued the terminations were regrettable results of necessary budget cuts.

“We ended our fiscal year a half million dollars behind our budget,” said Nee. “I have to make difficult decisions and I realize they’re unpopular, and I realize that they affect people’s lives.”

However, Triangle has also recently renovated a new program space in Malden and is now renting a suite of offices in Boston by South Station. Nee also admitted that management had recently questioned the now-terminated members of the organizing committee about the union campaign.

“Three of the individuals we considered supervisors,” he said. “The three individuals that are supervisors I know were talked to both as a group and individually that if they are supervisors, they cannot be involved in the organizing campaign.”

Normally, managers with sole hiring and firing powers are exempt from union protections. But the workers are crying foul. According to Bill Davis, a thirteen-year employee and among those terminated, he had no one working under him.

“I’m the ‘Facilities Manager’ in a Facilities department of one,” he said.

“There are many, many, many thousands of people in our union who are supervisors,” said Christie Stephenson, Communications Director of SEIU 509.

Jim Kane, another one of the terminated workers, brought his son with him. He’s worked for Triangle off-and-on for nearly twelve years, and joked his son might be working there too someday. Jim and Joe DiVincenzo line up outside work for clients with disabilities.

“With the younger people that come into it, we both tell them, you’ve got about 12 months, and if you don’t leave, you’re stuck. You’re not gonna go work in a bank someplace,” he said. “On Friday we stopped by one of our clients that works at a bar cleaning up, he was hugging us, telling us how much he loved us. You’re not gonna get that in the ‘real’ world.”

“We’ve all done this for a long time. They’re fun people to be around,” Jim continued. He says whether he’s at Triangle or not, he’ll be available for his clients if they need him.

Jim loves his job, but like Joe, Bill, and Amy Banelis, the conditions at Triangle drove him to start organizing.

They’ve witnessed favoritism in hiring and promotions, chronic understaffing, and a churning cycle of burnout among frontline staff. Joe tried to advocate higher pay for some qualified staff in Salem after they had been working for eighteen months to support their longterm growth, but upper management showed no interest.

“The expectation is you’re gonna get rid of them, you’re gonna burn them out in that period of time, then go get another,” he said. “You burn out your idealistic college kid and just replace them next year with the next crop, and you don’t ever have to address anything for frontline staff.”

These conditions have also driven other Triangle workers towards the union. The terminated workers believe they have strong support for the organizing drive in their workplace, and they are resolved to keep up the pressure to get their jobs back.

Even if Nee finds more funds, he made no promises on rehiring anyone. The workers plan on picketing Triangle’s ribbon-cutting of their new program space in Malden on Wednesday, and their supporters plan to join them.

“The Catholic bishops of the United States have clearly stated. No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself,” said Andy Griswold, a volunteer for Interfaith Worker Justice. “Do the right thing and examine your conscience. Let the workers themselves decide if they would like to be represented by this union.”