June 17, 2005
If you ever wonder how it is that big business has earned such a bad name these days, look no further than a Boston-based venture capital company by the name of Capital Resource Partners.
First, CRP, as it’s often known, decided to shutter a Vermont manufacturing plant it has owned for a few years that has been in operation since the 19th century. The plant, part of Specialty Filaments Inc., makes bristles for hairbrushes, brooms, and Oral-B toothbrushes. If there’s anything more American than a northern New England bristle-making factory, I haven’t seen it.
CRP summoned the plant’s hundred or so workers to a downtown Burlington hotel last month and hired some outsourced human resources types to give them the cheery news. Police stood at the edges of the room. The announcement lasted less than five minutes. The officials left without taking questions.
Good going, guys. Good going.
But maybe, just maybe, you can chalk that up to overseas competition, maybe a change in oral hygiene habits. Possibly people are suddenly sweeping less since CRP bought the company.
But that’s not the bad part.
No, the bad part is what happened a few days later. A few days later, Capital Resource Partners told the plant workers that they would each get two weeks’ severance, regardless of their tenure at the plant. The worker who had labored at the plant for 20 years would get two weeks’ worth. Thirty-year veterans, two weeks. Forty-year veterans, well, you get the picture.
And that’s not all. According to the union, Capital Resource Partners told the workers that they could not guarantee that severance would even be paid. On top of that, if a worker found a new job within that two weeks, they forfeited their severance pay.
You read that right: Men and women making maybe $15 an hour who had dedicated their working lives to a bristle manufacturing company might have to give their paltry severance back to the multimillionaire Bostonians who are shutting down their plant. Hold on: I’ve got Charles Dickens calling on Line 1.
Actually, it was James Lamore on the phone. He’s 57 years old. He’s worked at the plant for 34 years. He remembers the days that don’t seem so long ago when it was the number one bristle manufacturing operation in the world. And now he gets two weeks severance maybe.
“We are devastated, let me tell you,” he said.
Of special concern is his pension. He and a couple of dozen other longtimers had a pension under the plant’s old owners, the EB & AC Whiting Co., but no one under the new regime will tell them where the money is, or if it still exists.
I gave Capital Resource Partners a call. The kind receptionist referred me to the chief operating officer, Jeffrey W. Potter, who didn’t call me back. I called him again and again; no call back.
Maybe Jeffrey W. Potter was busy looking for the factory workers’ pension, so I sent an e-mail to Robert C. Ammerman, the CRP founder and managing partner. He did not reply. I called his house in Beverly Farms last night. No response.
I won’t take it personally. US Representative Bernard Sanders of Vermont told me yesterday that he’s called Robert C. Ammerman three times in the last month, and Ammerman has not called back. He’s probably so worried about these employees that he can barely talk about them. Right.
“When people work for 15, 20, 25 years, you have to treat them with a little bit of dignity,” Sanders said. “Giving them $1,500 and telling them to have a good life doesn’t do it.”
Admittedly, for all I know, Robert C. Ammerman and Jeffrey W. Potter of Capital Resource Partners in downtown Boston might be the most philanthropic guys in town. They might be great businessmen. They might be kind to kids and dogs. But they’ve caused a whole lot of pain for a whole lot of hard-working people who deserved a whole lot better than what they got. And for that, they should be truly ashamed.
Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org