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Hickey Freeman Workers May Join Hartmarx Sit-in

Hickey Freeman workers vote to stage a sit-in if a buyer or a bank tries to close their plant or liquidate Hartmarx.

WASHINGTON — A group of 450 Hickey Freeman workers in Rochester voted Tuesday to stage a sit-in if a buyer or a bank tries to close their plant or liquidate the bankrupt parent company, Hartmarx Corp., according to a Workers United spokeswoman.

This story first appeared in the May 13, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The vote follows a similar move by 500 Hartmarx employees at a Hart Schaffner Marx plant outside Chicago, who rallied Monday to pressure Wells Fargo-Wachovia, the primary lender, to allow the company to stay afloat and give bidders a chance to purchase the historic men’s clothing firm, which has been one of President Obama’s go-to tailors.

In Rochester, 450 union members, represented by Workers United, participated in the vote at the Hickey Freeman plant. About 100 nonunion clerical and management executives did not participate, the union spokeswoman said.

Union leaders, Capitol Hill lawmakers and Illinois state leaders have all turned up the heat on Wells Fargo in recent days, imploring the bank to allow a sale to go through. The bank, which controls $100 million of Hartmarx’s $160 million debtor-in-possession credit line, has reportedly threatened to pull financing and liquidate the high-end American men’s clothing firm, which employs 3,500 workers across the country.

Led by Rep. Phil Hare (D., Ill.), lawmakers have been placing calls to Wells Fargo to pressure the bank to keep the company afloat for a sale. The lawmakers are angry the financial institution, having received $25 billion in government bailout money, is said to be considering the withdrawal of financing for the company, putting it at risk of liquidation and workers at risk of unemployment.

Wells Fargo declined to comment on Tuesday’s vote in Rochester, but on Monday said it “empathizes with the employees and communities affected by the decisions made by Hartmarx.” It said it had continued to finance the company even though it’s been in default on its loan obligations and appears unable to repay the more than $114 million it owes the bank group.