Look For The Union Label: Saving Jobs at the Company Making Obama’s Suits

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

I have some good news.  This is a story of how worker activism along with the help of Democratic officeholders can save jobs.  

First, my title.   It’s title is derived from the fact that one of Workers United’s predecessor unions at Hartmarx was the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union.   Looks like the union label will stay on the President’s suits.  (President Obama wore a Hartmarx suit at the Innaugaration, I believe.)

The 1978 ad:

Two weeks ago workers voted to hold a sit-in action at the factores of the company that makes Obama’s suits (Hartmarx) if Well Fargo sold it to a company that would close the plants and send the jobs overseas.  This week, the bidder approved as the “stalking horse” bidder in bankruptcy is a good company who will keep jobs in Amerirca and honor the union contracts.

More, after the fold.

Look for the union label

when you are buying that coat, dress or blouse.

Remember somewhere our union’s sewing,

our wages going to feed the kids, and run the house.

We work hard, but who’s complaining?

Thanks to the I.L.G. we’re paying our way!

So always look for the union label,

it says we’re able to make it in the U.S.A.!

Hartmarx workers are members of the union Workers United, an SEIU affiliate.  Workers United is a union representing more than 150,000 workers in the US and Canada who work in the laundry, food service, hospitality, gaming, apparel, textiles manufacturing and distribution industries.  Workers United is a new union with a history of more than 100 years, and includes members from many predecessor unions, including the ILGWU, ACTWU, UNITE and UNITE HERE unions.

The good news:

Two hours ago, in federal bankruptcy court, Judge Bruce W. Black approved British private equity firm Emerisque as the “stalking horse” bidder to purchase the company.  If he and the relevant parties — most importantly, creditor Wells Fargo — had failed to come to such an agreement, liquidation of the company would have begun immediately and 1,000 Illinois workers would be out of a job.

snip

“We are quite pleased with the progress and optimistic,” Workers United Midwest Treasurer Joe Costigan said after the hearing, flanked by Hartmarx workers from the Des Plaines factory. “This was a huge day for us today.”

Progress Illinois: Hartmarx Workers Live To Fight Another Day

This is a good company who will honor the union contracts:

The union has an understanding with Emerisque that it will assume Hartmarx’s obligations to their employees including the union contract obligations.  In addition Emerisque will not close the Rock Island Illinois facility. Emerisque is committed to the ‘Made in America’ label for Hickey Freeman and Hart Schaffner & Marx.  These are the kind of good union jobs that are needed in our currently depressed economy. We call on Wells Fargo, recipient of 25 billion dollars in taxpayer support, to have a similar commitment to American jobs.

Bruce Raynor’s Statement

I wrote on this struggle a couple weeks ago.  For more background, follow the links in my diaries from a couple weeks ago (linked below).  Here’s a quick summary:

First, workers voted to hold a sit-in style action, which means that if Wells Fargo or a buyer tries to begin liquidation or close the factory, the workers will respond by physically remaining at their job site.

Updated!  Workers Vote For Sit-In at Company Making Obama’s Suits.

Workers were allied and the union was strong:

If the banks are going to pull the plug and pull us down, we will fight,” said Ruby Sims, president of the Workers United union local at the plant. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to keep our jobs.”

And Real Democrats stood up and fought WITH workers.  In this case, Congressman Hare had been a Hartmarx worker for 13 years.  It made a difference.  He knew whose side he was on:

Representative Phil Hare, who worked for 13 years as a clothing cutter at the company’s plant in Rock Island, Ill., said that if Wells Fargo sold Hartmarx to a buyer that liquidated it, “I promise you I will be their worst nightmare.”

[Congressman Hare] went on to enlist the help of Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).  Rep. Jan Schakowsky, whose great-aunt found a job with Hartmarx after emigrating from Russia, called Wells Fargo CEO John Strumpf and urged him to keep the company running.  Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, meanwhile, sent a letter to Strumpf threatening to sever the state’s business with the bank if Hartmarx was ultimately liquidated.

snip

Wells Fargo is the custodian for the $8 billion Illinois state portfolio, according to Scott Burnham, spokesman for the Illinois Treasurer’s office.

$8 Billion got their attention, it seems.

The netroots helped by signing letters to Wells Fargo.  See Rep. Hare: “I promise you I will be their worst nightmare.”  

It then went national:

Hartmarx Sit In Plan Going National: Rochester Joins Illinois Plant in Sit-In Vote

Last week, a busload of Hartmarx workers went to Milwaukee to take sign-on letters to a chair of Wells Fargo board.  But for some reason (you guess the reason) that Wells Fargo board member decided not to show up at the last second so the workers weren’t able to take the petitions to him.  Workers kept the pressure on:

And now, the “good” company has been approved as the “stalking horse” bid in bankruptcy.  This means that that the compnay sets a bid floor and that Wells Fargo will not try to liquidate Hartmarx.  The jobs are safe, for now.

This is good news, but there is still a need to be vigilant. It’s not completely over.  Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias has the workers’ backs on this:  

Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who has threatened to pull the state’s business from Wells Fargo if the bank backs a company liquidation, said he plans to monitor the proposed transaction to ensure the bank follows through with it.

While this is a positive step, Wells Fargo must act if it wants to continue to serve as the custodian of Illinois’ $8 billion portfolio,” he said in a statement.

Chicago Tribune

Here’s a tentative timeline:

June 22: The deadline for complete bids (other than Emerisque).

June 23: Deadline for anyone to file objections to the sale and sale conditions.

June 24: If there are any new bids, there will be an auction to determine the highest bid.  No Bids will be allowed that are lower than Emerisque’s current bid.  If there are no other bids then there will be no auction.

June 25: Court Hearing where judge approves the sale. The final signing of documents, exchange of cash, etc will take place a few days later.

This has been an important struggle for the Hartmarx workers, but it also is a model of how workers, their unions, and Democratic officals can work together to save jobs or to improve the lives of people.  Not every stuggle with have a player who took TARP money and who is more vulnerable to political and popular pressure.  But worker activism along with officeholder support can work in a variety of contexts.

Here, we have Democrats willing to fight with workers instead of against them or just giving “lip service.”  These are the Better Democrats we need to elect.  More like Phil Hare, Alexi Giannoulias and Jan Schakowsky, and fewer like Blanche Lincoln or faux “Democrats” such as Arlen Specter.  

Also on Daily Kos: http://www.dailykos.com/story/…

 

8 comments

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  1. Especially when it’s heading in a positive direction.

    Thanks TomP.

    • TomP on June 3, 2009 at 5:53 pm
      Author

    Going back and forth, I forgot my tip jar!  🙂

    • Alma on June 3, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    to hear good news for a union lately.

    They’ve done so much for so many people and don’t get the support they deserve IMO.

  2. I really love these ads.  Wish every worker had the option to join a union.

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