Hartmarx workers: Our jobs are worth fighting for

DES PLAINES, Ill. — Workers boarded a bus this morning at the Hartmarx Corp. factory here, on their way to protest in front of a new Target store in Waukesha, Wis. The Hartmarx workers, represented by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, plan to demonstrate at Target’s annual meeting, where Wells Fargo Chairman Richard Kovacevich is expected.

Hartmarx is a major Chicago men’s suit manufacturer that has been in business for over a century, but it has recently gone into bankruptcy due to the recession. The company’s main creditor, Wells Fargo, a major recipient of federal bailout money, has suggested it prefers to liquidate the business rather than allow it to restructure and continue operations.

Kovacevich is on the board of Target and is running for reelection. The Hartmarx workers said they wanted to deliver a message to him demanding that the bank save thousands of jobs rather than liquidate the business for its short-term interests.

“We want to have a discussion with the board of Wells Fargo to keep our jobs at Hartmarx not only here in Illinois but across the country,” said Joe Costigan, treasurer of Workers United.

“We’re concerned that all along the bank has been trying to liquidate these jobs,” he said. “The banks have a hell of a lot of power over working families when it comes to people’s mortgages and our jobs. And Wells Fargo is a key player in deciding if this company stays open.”

Costigan continued, “We make some of the best suits in the country and these are jobs that working people’s livelihoods depend on. These are our jobs and we want Wells Fargo to know they’re worth fighting for.”

Last week Hartmarx announced that it had accepted a bid worth $119 million for substantially all its assets from Emerisque Brands U.K. Limited and SKNL North America B.V. The potential buyer wants to keep the business open.

The purchase agreement sets the bid floor for a potential auction of Hartmarx that could come as soon as June 30 and be finalized by mid-July, according to documents the company filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

In a recent statement Emerisque said it “recognizes the value of a ‘Made in America’ label in the U.S. and in markets around the world.” Emerisque added it “believes that the Hartmarx family of brands and its domestic manufacturing base have a bright future in the U.S. and the global market.”

Hartmarx has asked the court to accept the bidders as what’s known as the stalking horse, meaning their offer becomes a benchmark others could top. It asked for a July 9 hearing to approve the sale of the company to Emerisque and SKNL or to a different successful bidder.

Noel Beasley, manager of the Chicago-Midwest Regional Joint Board and executive vice president of Workers United, welcomed the news. In a statement he said, “In these tough economic times everyone has to do their part. Our members, Hartmarx workers, work hard producing quality products. Emerisque has made a generous bid for Hartmarx. The American people supported the banks when they were in trouble. Now, Wells Fargo simply has to accept Emerisque’s offer. It’s good for all parties concerned.”

Nearly 3,500 people are employed at Hartmarx, which maintains plants in Rochester, N.Y.; Des Plaines and Rock Island, Ill.; Anniston, Ala.; Michigan City, Ind.; Easton, Pa.; and Ontario, Canada. More than 2,000 employed at Hartmarx are members of Workers United.

plozano @ pww.org