Across town from the UNITE HERE convention where motions to end the inter-union fight between Workers United and their union were shouted down, Workers United members were celebrating a monumental victory for workers who stood up to one of the biggest banks in the country and won.
Determined to protect good, North American manufacturing jobs, Hart Schaffner & Marx employees (famous for making suits for President Obama) and labor activists fought for and saved the suit maker's factories from threats of liquidation by TARP infused creditor Wells Fargo bank.
Chicago-based Hartmarx, the largest menswear manufacturing company in the nation, filed for bankruptcy protection in January after U.S. banks curtailed its lines of credit. Wells Fargo, Hartmarx's biggest creditor, argued for the suit maker's liquidation because the company defaulted on loans. Gov. Patrick Quinn of Illinois and lawmakers in Washington had urged the bank to avoid liquidation, citing Wells Fargo's receipt of $25 billion in federal aid.
After Hart Schaffner & Marx employees voted to occupy their factories to prevent Wells Fargo from liquidating the company, thousands of labor activists joined workers' in demanding that elected officials and Wells Fargo take steps to prevent the devastating loss of jobs. Hartmarx employs about 3,500 workers and maintains plants in Rochester, New York; Des Plaines and Rock Island, Illinois; Anniston, Alabama; Michigan City, Indiana; Easton, Pennsylvania; and Ontario, Canada.
The worker and labor activists' efforts successfully thwarted Wells Fargo's push for liquidation. Last week, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court approved a pro-worker acquisition deal by British private equity firm Emerisque. The deal brings the 125-year-old suit maker out of bankruptcy and comes with Emerisque's assurance that they will protect Hartmarx jobs.
Illinois' State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (who wrote his own blog post about it on Dkos!), U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky and Congressman Phil Hare joined more than 600 Hart Schaffner & Marx workers in suburban Chicago to celebrate the workers victory and discuss the $128 million deal.
"The workers deserve this victory," said Ruby Sims, a Hartmarx employee for 31 years, and one of the Des Plaines plant's union organizers. "All of the workers in this plant have their livelihoods tied to Hartmarx's success. This is an important milestone for all of us."