About 70 workers fired by Monster Cable sang carols in protest Friday afternoon outside the company’s headquarters in Brisbane, demanding better severance packages and a fund to pay for job training.
Monster, which paid $6 million for the privilege of having Candlestick Park named after it in 2004, laid off 120 workers — 15 percent of its workforce — in October and contracted with a firm in Mexico to take over part of its assembly.
Company owner Noel Lee “cannot forget about the workers who have contributed so much,” said protester Amy Guo, 46, who had worked for Monster since 1988, trained many employees on the assembly line and watched the company grow from a couple of dozen to hundreds of people.
Like many of those who were fired, Guo — who earned $16 per hour — is an immigrant.
Workers and their supporters sang carols in Chinese and English, with lyrics rewritten in protest: “Deck the Halls with Injustice” and “You Ruined Our Merry Christmas.”
The production workers are mostly Chinese, Vietnamese, Latino and Eastern European immigrants, are an average of 52 years old and had worked for Monster for more than eight years on average, according to the Chinese Progressive Association, a Chinatown service provider helping organize workers.
Guo has looked for work at restaurants and hospitals and was rejected because she lacks relevant experience and does not speak English, she said.
For weeks, former workers have been protesting, handing shoppers at electronics retailers such as Best Buy and Cambridge Soundworks candy canes and flyers describing their plight and demands.
Rallying workers have gained the sympathy of several members of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors who have proposed a resolution calling for more severance pay and a $2 million community transition fund.
Monster, which gave the protesting workers a month of severance pay, in 2005 offered one month, plus one week of severance pay for every year an employee had worked for the company, which is what the workers want now.
But last year’s package was unusual, not part of any written policy, said Daniel Graham, a Monster spokesman. He would not disclose financial information on the privately held company.
The self-anointed “head monster,” Noel Lee — who founded the company in his San Francisco garage in 1978 — said that if he could afford to pay more severance or set up a community fund, he wouldn’t have fired the workers.
Lee said he had to lay off the workers to protect the jobs of the remaining 560 Bay Area employees, some of whom still work in production — even though labor costs are much lower overseas.
“We’re economically squeezed. We have to sell products for less and less,” Lee said, adding that he thinks the city of San Francisco should come up with funding to assist workers. “Workers think if they make a lot of noise and demonstrate, there’s going to be some other resolution than what was offered. We don’t have the money.”
He criticized the resolution proposed by Supervisor Jake McGoldrick as “grandstanding” because Monster’s facilities aren’t in San Francisco. However, many Monster workers live in San Francisco, and Lee was born and raised there, as the proposed resolution states.
“He can spin and call it whatever he wants, but it shows his insensitivity,” McGoldrick said. Monster is “taking profits out of the Bay Area and taking jobs away, after using the Bay Area’s resources.”
Lee, who was scheduled to meet with McGoldrick earlier this month, pulled out after he learned that dozens of fired workers would also attend.
“He was turning it into a conflict,” Lee said of McGoldrick.
The resolution, first up for a vote of the full board Dec. 12, was sent back to committee for further discussion at the request of Supervisor Ed Jew.
Jew said he’s trying to set up a meeting between Lee and his former workers.
“This is a Chinese company that gave many opportunities for new immigrants. Let’s try to keep jobs in the Bay Area and give an opportunity for businesses to be competitive.”
Alex Tom, a community organizer at the Chinese Progressive Association, said workers want to meet with Lee to talk about their severance, but he’s doubtful.
“The company has already communicated directly to us that it’s not going to happen.”
by Vanessa Hua