Massachusetts Labor History Project: Nichols & Stone

The story below comes from  a 2009 interview with union workers Richard & Millie Beauregard that are currently being printed as part of a series of oral histories about Nichols & Stone Furniture Company at the Chair City Community Workshop. Massachusetts Community College Council (MTA) member and part time Community College Instructor Tracie Pouliot collected the oral history interviews a year after Nichols & Stone closed and runs the Community Workshop where volunteers use the printing and book arts to celebrate to stories of working people in Gardner, MA. Of the dozen oral histories in the series, Richard and Mille Beauregard’s speaks most directly to the presence of the union at the factory. Richard and Millie worked a combined 49 years at Nichols & Stone helping produce the product that defines Gardner Massachusetts, also known as the Chair City. 

In 1987 Richard Beauregard got a job as a band saw operator at Nichols & Stone furniture company in Gardner Massachusetts. Nichols and Stone was a union shop and so a co-worker approached Richard about signing a union card and paying dues. Richard recalls the exchange with this co-worker:

“What do you mean I got to join the union?” Richard recalls asking.
“You gotta join the union,” responded his co-worker.
“What if I don’t want to join?,” he asked.
“Well then you can’t work here,” his co-worker replied.

“I mean I was making good money, so I joined the union.” explains Richard. “If you’re gonna make me join something, I’m gonna find out something about it.” Richard got involved in his local - IUE 81-154- and in 2003 he was the Shop Chairperson for IUE at Nichols and Stone helping negotiate the contract. In 2003 no one at the negotiating table knew that would be the final IUE local 81-154 contact with a Gardner furniture maker; Nichols & Stone closed its doors in 2008 after 150 years of production.

“I haven’t heard anybody say that Nichols and Stones closed because of the union,” says Richard. “You often hear that union places close – ‘Ah the union… demands for too much.’ At the end we took cuts. We didn’t take the raises that we were entitled to. So it wasn’t the union that forced them out. I’m glad I haven’t heard that.”

Richard and Millie’s oral history is not specifically about the union at Nichols & Stone, but it is an account by two working people about their experience working in the furniture industry and trying to understand why a 150-year-old company shuts its doors, as well as how a factory closing like that affects a person.

“I work with volunteers to transcribe and edit each interview,” explains Tracie. “Then volunteers print the interview on a vintage letterpress. We even set some of the type by hand. Each page goes through the press multiple times, each page is touched by a lot of hands." After the interview is printed, volunteers sit together and bind each oral history into a book by hand.

“Each step of the process is an opportunity to talk about how deindustrialization has affected people’s lives in our area,” continues Tracie. After 400 copies of each oral history book are printed and bound, the Community Workshop holds a book release party to celebrate the interviewees and the volunteers who worked on that oral history. Later there is an informal book discussion where community members can dive into the issues raised by each story. 

The Chair City Oral History Book Series is community run and depends on volunteers coming in and helping produce the oral history books. “We’d be very excited to have a bunch of people who care about working class history or are interested in unions to come in and help us finish Richard and Millie’s book,” says Tracie . “You don’t need any experience to help, other volunteers or I can train you on the spot. If you volunteer three hours you can have a copy of Richard and Mille’s book, or if you don’t like the work you can always sit around the Community Workshop and share your own experiences.”

The Community Workshop is located at 306 Central St in downtown Gardner. “All Are Welcome,” reads a small broad side printed by a letter press shop in St Pete Florida, shortly after the 2016 elections.  For more information or to find out the hours the Community Workshop visit traciepouliot.com and click on Chair City Oral History Project.