By  on June 1, 1994

NEW YORK -- "Barring a last-minute miracle, we're going on strike at 12:01 tonight against Leslie Fay," Susan Cowell, a vice president of the ILGWU, said late Tuesday.

Otherwise, the union said, it had wrapped up the rest of its negotiations for new three-year contracts to replace those that expired Tuesday covering some 90,000 workers in the Northeast apparel industry. Last week, as reported, the union reached agreement with six organizations whose members employ some 22,000 workers and said those deals set a pattern for subsequent settlements with the remaining 39 employer organizations.

As noted, the agreement calls for a 10 percent wage increase and a 3.5 percent increase in the employers' contribution to the union's health and welfare fund, both over three years.

However, the Leslie Fay situation has been polarized over the company's proposal to shut down its domestic production. The company concurred with the union that the talks had reached an impasse and said it was preparing for a possible walkout at 12:01 a.m. today at its facilities in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

Michael Babcock, president of Leslie Fay, said that on Friday the company put "a fair and reasonable offer on the bargaining table." He said the offer would guarantee all jobs at the firm's Pennsylvania production facilities until May 1995, continue 150 production jobs for the remaining two years of the contract at a new quick-turn dress facility in Wyoming Valley, Pa., and provide "significant" severance benefits for employees who elect to participate in a voluntary retirement program.

He said the company's offer to its distribution employees in the Wilkes-Barre area of Pennsylvania and Secaucus, N.J., and sample room workers in the firm's New York offices "is at least comparable to that of the apparel industry settlement with the ILGWU."

Cowell said under an earlier compromise agreement, which Leslie Fay is trying to negate in bankruptcy court, where it has been in Chapter 11 since April 1993, the job levels are guaranteed until May 1995 anyhow. She also said the guarantee of jobs in the dress plant was "much too small."

She said about 1,800 workers are expected to go on strike against the company, including production workers, distribution center employees, sample hands and workers at contract shops.Babcock said that if there is a walk-out the company's facilities will continue to operate with supervisory and replacement personnel. "We do not anticipate any meaningful disruption in our business," he said. Cowell said the company "refused to even talk about" several contingency provisions, one being that the union "fully cooperate" with consolidations or transfer of employees to create the dress plant. This leaves "a big legal loophole we could not agree to," she said.

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