Eastern Fisheries, one of America's largest seafood suppliers, has effectively fired 100 processing workers in New Bedford by requiring them to reapply for their jobs with verified social security numbers.

Many of the workers are Central American immigrants who have worked for years at Eastern Fisheries under temporary contracts through a pair of local employment agencies: BJ’s Service Company and Masis Staffing Solutions.

Eastern Fisheries terminated those contracts this week. The company said the decision affected 110 workers, all of whom were invited to reapply for direct employment with Eastern Fisheries on Monday morning.

“No former agency staff member who wishes to continue working today, as they did on Friday, will be deprived of that opportunity,” Eastern Fisheries said in a statement early Monday morning.

But the re-application process required workers to verify their identification and social security numbers through a government website, e-verify.gov. Of the 110 workers previously employed at Eastern Fisheries through temp agencies, only 11 have been rehired, according to the company.

Adrian Ventura, a labor activist who has been organizing workers at Eastern Fisheries for several years, said the verification process effectively excluded undocumented workers from reapplying. Ventura said he did not know how many of the affected workers are undocumented.

In a statement, Eastern Fisheries said it is pursuing these changes in response to a recent wrongful termination case that a seafood processing worker filed with the National Labor Relations Board last year.

The worker, Ruth Castro, alleged she was fired by Eastern Fisheries for organizing her coworkers to ask for better wages and working conditions. Castro returned to work on March 21 as part of a settlement agreement that repaid her for lost wages and required Eastern Fisheries to post a public notice acknowledging they had wrongfully terminated her.

“In the course of examining the charge,” the statement from Eastern Fisheries said, “the NLRB determined that despite our contractual arrangement with the agency, and the longstanding practice and understanding in the seafood industry, Eastern Fisheries would be considered a joint employer of the agency workers, together with the employing agency.”

“The finding has many legal repercussions,” the company’s statement said, “but basically, it means there is no longer any legal separation between Eastern Fisheries and employing agencies.”

Eastern Fisheries attributed the mass termination of more than 100 seafood processing workers to this recent shift in the company’s understanding of its legal protections.

But several workers interviewed by The Public’s Radio characterized the termination as retaliation for the settlement Castro won and other recent workplace organizing in pursuit of better working conditions.

The NLRB is investigating an unfair labor charge that a legal services nonprofit filed on behalf of the workers last week.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Eastern Fisheries rehired five of the 110 temp workers that received termination notices in February. The correct number is 11. Eastern Fisheries rehired five temp workers prior to April 3, then rehired an additional six temp workers that day.

Ben Berke is the South Coast Bureau Reporter for The Public’s Radio. He can be reached at bberke@thepublicsradio.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenBerke6.