PI Original Angela Caputo Thursday May 7th, 2009, 3:32pm

Hartmarx Workers Will "Push To The End" To Keep Suitmaker Open

As today's rally outside of the Des Plaines Hart Schaffner Marx factory began,
workers stepped off the floor and gathered on the grass outside to urge Wells Fargo, the company's creditor, to steer clear of liquidation.  In a testament to Hartmarx's longstanding presence in ...

As today's rally outside of the Des Plaines Hart Schaffner Marx factory began, workers stepped off the floor and gathered on the grass outside to urge Wells Fargo, the company's creditor, to steer clear of liquidation.  In a testament to Hartmarx's longstanding presence in the community, some employees playfully argued over who has worked for the suitmaker longest. "Thirty years," "41 years," "42 years," 50 years" they called out, trying to outdo each other.

Since the company filed for bankruptcy in January, the 600 workers at the Des Plaines plant (along with another 300 in Rock Island) have made numerous concessions in order to hang onto their jobs, including agreeing to 6-hour workdays and unpaid leave.  During the bankruptcy process, two companies have bid to take over Hartmarx with the intentions of keeping it intact or even modernizing operations. But as we've noted, Wells Fargo is rumored to favor a third bidder who will likely liquidate the company, meaning the loss of over 3,000 jobs nationwide and 1,000 here in Illinois.  

Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Phil Hare have both expressed outraged at Wells Fargo, pointing out that the bank has accepted $25 billion in federal bailout funds. Workers at the Des Plaines factory are equally disgusted. "The difference is," employee Wade Lester told us, "they got theirs so they’re not worried about anybody else ... We go home and we worry."  Watch some of the remarks at today's lunch-time rally:

Like portions of the Northwestern suburbs, the Hartmarx employee lunch tables are a virtual United Nations. Folks chatter in Spanish, Polish, Urdu and Tagalog. And we met with some long-time South Siders who once worked at the factory's original location at 728 W. Jackson and have since followed it to the suburbs (which requires a two-hour commute for some).

For Rupa Trivedi, who has worked making patterns at the factory for six years, the scenario is a deja vu; she worked ten years at a separate Chicago clothier that eventually went under. But with bidders looking to revitalize Hartmarx, she's holding out hope that the outcome will be different this time around. "We think it will come through," Trivedi said of the 122-year-old company, which weathered the Great Depression and numerous recessions since. "The company has gone through ups and downs and it has always come back."

Trivedi vowed that the union members plan to "push until the end."  We'll be following the fight.

Full disclosure: The SEIU Illinois State Council sponsors this website.

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