NEW YORK — The strike by the ILGWU against The Leslie Fay Cos. made some progress toward a possible settlement Monday with the news that former Secretary of Labor Bill Usery Jr. has been brought in as a mediator.
“We think it’s important because Bill Usery is a high-profile person with a reputation of taking a more active role as a mediator,” said Susan Cowell, a vice president of the ILGWU, adding that Irwin Gerard of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, who had been mediating the negotiations, was more of a “listener.”
“The company asked for Bill Usery to be brought in, which we take as a sign that we’re really hurting them with the strike,” Cowell said. “I think that’s why they are pursuing more serious mediation. It was fine with us. We’re ready to sit down if they want to talk about saving a significant number of jobs. We were forced into this strike, and we don’t want it to be prolonged. We’re just looking for a fair agreement to save jobs.”
A Leslie Fay spokesman declined to comment on “the history” of Usery being brought in, saying only that “the action speaks for itself.”
The company and the union said Usery, president of Bill Usery Associates, a consulting and mediation firm specializing in union-management relations, was scheduled to meet separately Monday with company and union officials at his office in Washington, D.C. Plans are to then get the two sides together today for a bargaining session.
The ILGWU’s strike against Leslie Fay began June 1, after the two sides failed to agree on a new three-year labor contract. The old pact expired May 31. The main issue in the dispute is Leslie Fay’s plan to close its domestic dress production facilities in the Wilkes-Barre area of Pennsylvania.
The union rejected a contract offer from Leslie Fay that would maintain current production jobs, about 1,200, until May 1995; provide severance packages of $5,000 for employees with less than 15 years of service and $6,500 for more than 15 years of employment, and create a quick-turn dress plant that would guarantee 150 positions.
Since then, the union has staged a major rally in the garment district and initiated a call for a retail and consumer boycott of Leslie Fay products. Leslie Fay has claimed all along that the strike has had little or no effect on its business, while the ILGWU has said the company’s ability to ship goods has been severely curtailed.
Cowell said Usery is recognized as one of the top mediators in the country, and is known for mediating high-profile collective bargaining disputes. He was Secretary of Labor under President Ford from 1976-’77, and special assistant to the president for labor-management relations under Presidents Ford and Nixon. He is also a former national director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
Usery is currently a member of the Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations, which was formed last year to investigate the state of worker-management relations and labor law, and recommend changes that might be needed to improve productivity through increased worker-management cooperation and employee participation in the workplace.