Hartmarx workers sit-in vote spreads to Rochester, NY

In a powerful rising movement to save jobs, union workers are flexing their muscle these days nationwide by voting unanimously to sit-in at factories and not let bailed-out banks decide their fate.

More than 450 workers at Hickey-Freeman in Rochester, NY, voted unanimously May 13th, to stage a sit-in at their factory if the company’s main creditor Wells Fargo & Co. decides to liquidate the business. The vote comes one day after more than 600 workers at Hartmarx Corp. in Des Plaines, Ill. voted to sit in at their plant.

The company is in the process of being sold. Union leaders fear the new owners being sought by Wells Fargo will shut down the operation which has been operating since 1872.

The Rochester workers are joining with the workers at Hartmarx, Hickey-Freeman’s parent company. The Rochester Regional Joint Board of the Workers United Union, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union represent workers there.

Debbie Glinski has worked at Hickey-Freeman for 15 years.

“There are a lot of married couples that work here,” said Glinski in a press release. “If they lost their jobs, their families would be devastated. These banks received bail out money and that came from taxpayers like us. We helped them out and they need to help us out too.”

Fred Cotraccia is a 50-year veteran employee at the Rochester plant. “We want to work,” he said. “We’re willing to sit-in and do more if necessary to keep working.”

Joint Board manager Gary Bonadonna said, “These jobs are good jobs, and we’re hoping Wells Fargo doesn’t try to throw them away, but if it does, we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to secure the jobs here in Rochester.”

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is also standing up for the workers. “Wells Fargo has received billions in direct government support to get them through the crisis,” he said. “Now they must help justify the taxpayers’ investment and give Hartmarx the time it needs to develop the best possible bids, and must select a bid for the company that will allow it to stay open and preserve 600-plus jobs in Rochester, scores more in Buffalo and 3,000 jobs across the country.”

Wells Fargo received $25 billion in federal bailout funds and generated record first-quarter profits.

Chicago-based Hartmarx, the largest menswear manufacturing company in the country, filed for bankruptcy protection in January after U.S. banks curtailed its lines of credit. It has become known for making suits worn by President Barack Obama. Obama wore one of the company’s tuxedos at his inauguration. The clothing maker employees 3,500 nationwide.

Workers at Hartmarx and Hickey-Freeman are borrowing a page from the playbook of workers at Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors factory. In that situation, Bank of America cut off credit to the company, leading to its closure last December.

The workers and their union fought back, staging a six-day occupation at the plant, which gained national and international attention including support from the Obama administration.

The workers eventually won a settlement with the bank, securing sick leave and vacation pay they were owed, and health benefits. Today, new owners have reopened the plant and all 260 former Republic workers are in the process of being re-hired, represented by their union.

As working families and their unions continue to be hit by company closings perpetuated by banks and other financial institutions, organized labor and rank-and-file workers are saying enough is enough, it’s time that they, and not the banks, get bailed out.