Workers Approve Sit-in At Hartmarx Suit Factory that Wells Fargo May Shut Down

Workers Approve Sit-In At Hartmarx Suit Factory
Wells Fargo Bank May Shut Suitmaker Down

DES PLAINES, Ill. (CBS) ―Five hunded workers at the Hartmarx suit factory in northwest suburban Des Plaines have authorized a sit-in over the threat that the company’s largest creditor may shut it down.

Employees want the largest creditor for the 130-year-old Chicago area company, Wells Fargo Bank, to help it reorganize instead of shutting it down. In the event that the factory closes or is liquidated, they will not leave.

As CBS 2’s Susan Carlson reports, just months ago, the company formerly known as Hart, Schaffner & Marx, which has its factory at 1680 E. Touhy Ave. in Des Plaines, was best known for making the favorite suits of President Barack Obama. But that has changed.

Wells Fargo has received $25 billion in federal bailout money, and has the option of either selling the bankrupt Hartmarx to bidders or forcing the company to shut down. If that happened, the 600 workers at the factory would lose their jobs.

“We are all upset that, they should give us another chance to make sure that somebody comes in who actually wants to bid,” said Workers United Local President Ruby Sims. “Take the bid. Let us work. We deserve to finish paying those bills, paying for our houses, taking care of our children.”

“We will not leave the factories if they move and push to liquidate it and close down our jobs,” said Midwest Workers United Treasurer Joe Costigan.

And there were reports Monday that Hartmarx may be split between men’s and womenswear if it is sold to two buyers, according to a report in Women’s Wear Daily magazine.

The scenario would have Hartmarx’s women’s brands, such as Monarchy and Exclusively Misook, being sold to New York-based Mistral, while the men’s brands would be sold to Los Angeles-based Yucaipa, the report said.

None of the companies would comment.

Any deal would have to be approved by the bankruptcy court.

Hartmarx could be following in the footsteps of another Chicago-based company that staged a sit-in to get financing last December.

Employees at Republic Windows & Doors employees refused to leave the company, and it worked. The sit-in at the factory at 1150 N. North Branch St. on Goose Island sparked international attention, and the company Serious Materials announced in March that they were purchasing Republic, rehiring all the workers, and plan to reopen within the next few months.

Hartmarx is hoping to have a similar positive outcome to keep their 600 employees – and 1,000 across the state – collecting their paychecks.

Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias walked into the Hartmarx factory building to appear in support of the workers’ cause.

“Unless the company remains open, [Wells Fargo] will not be doing business with the state of Illinois any longer,” he said.

Union officials lauded the vote.

“Voting to sit in, these workers are standing up for all of us,” said Noel Beasley, Director of the Chicago/Midwest Regional Joint Board and Executive Vice President of Workers United. “The future of the economy and the future of this country are all about good jobs. The vote today says Hartmarx workers are going to hold banks accountable for how they spend taxpayers’ money and how they contribute to the future of our economy.”

(© MMIX, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

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