Contract Ends Strike at Leslie Fay

By Cimini, Michael H.; Muhl, Charles J. | Monthly Labor Review, October 1994 | Go to article overview

Contract Ends Strike at Leslie Fay


Cimini, Michael H., Muhl, Charles J., Monthly Labor Review


A 40-day strike at Leslie Fay Cos., a women's apparel manufacturer, ended when a U.S. Bankruptcy Court approved a tentative 3-year agreement reached between the company and the International Ladies' Garment Workers. The stoppage began after Leslie Fay, attempting to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, issued the union a final offer that included a proposal to close most domestic manufacturing operations. The strike idled some 1,500 of 1,800 unionized workers at 12 production, distribution, and cutting and sample-making facilities in 5 States.

The dispute soon became symbolic of organized labor's struggle to stop domestic manufacturers from relocating overseas. On June 2, the union initiated a consumer boycott of major retail stores that carried clothing manufactured by the company. Five days later, in Wilkes-Barre, PA, union leaders testified at a House subcommittee field hearing that was held at their behest to investigate the dispute. They claimed that the company was eliminating 1,200jobs in the United States and moving the work to low-wage plants in the Far East and in the Caribbean, despite wage and benefit concessions workers had made to help return the company to profitability. Leslie Fay refused to participate in the hearings, claiming that they would be "a political rather than a fact-finding event." However, a company spokesperson did say that Leslie Fay was cutting domestic production because it was losing money and that its final offer--which was voided by the bankruptcy court because it was reached after the company filed for bankruptcy protection--was fair. That offer, the spokesperson claimed, included job guarantees for all workers at its plants in Wilkes-Barre and nearby communities in Pennsylvania for 1 year; similar guarantees for 150 jobs at a plant in the Wyoming Valley region of Pennsylvania for 3 years; severance pay for workers who participated in a voluntary retirement program; and job retraining and assistance programs for laid-off employees. The union characterized the offer as a "transparent public relations ploy," saying it was "couched in so many conditions as to render it meaningless."

The eventual settlement came during mediation sessions conducted by William J. Usery, former Secretary of Labor. It was hailed by the union as a "trailblazing agreement" and by the company as a "realistic and reasonable" one. In a joint statement, the parties said, "The ILGWU and Leslie Fay recognize that we must forge a new and different relationship in order to achieve both the union's objective of increased employment and security and the company's need for continued competitiveness and financial stability."

Under terms of the pact, Leslie Fay agreed to guarantee for 1 year the jobs of about 600 of the 1,000 unionized workers in its Pennsylvania manufacturing operations; provide a $2. …

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