By  on June 10, 1994

NEW YORK -- The ILGWU kicked off its call for a nationwide consumer boycott of Leslie Fay products Thursday with what it said was the largest union rally in the garment district here since its last general strike in 1958.

The crowd was estimated by union officials and police officers on the scene at 7,000 to 8,000 people. Striking Leslie Fay workers from five states -- Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Georgia and Ohio -- were joined at the noon-time demonstration in front of Leslie Fay headquarters at 1400 Broadway by other ILGWU members and trade unionists affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

"I come here today with a message from our nearly 14 million members and their families that we are on your side and at your side," said Thomas Donahue, secretary-treasurer of AFL-CIO, addressing the rally. "I also come here with a message to Mr. Pomerantz and Mr. Babcock that you can't get away with this, and you won't get away with this."

Donahue was referring to John J. Pomerantz, chairman, and Michael Babcock, president, of The Leslie Fay Cos.

Donahue said he has no quarrel with the workers in Guatemala and Honduras, to which, he said Leslie Fay says it wants to move production. The main issue in the controversy between the union and the company is the firm's plan to shut down its U.S. factories, which account for about 28 percent of its business.

"My quarrel is with the scavengers who scrounge around the world looking for cheap labor," Donahue said.

Donahue said the 13.3-million-member AFL-CIO would support and publicize the boycott "in every way we can" and "until 2,000 people go back to work we will send out the message 'Don't buy Leslie Fay."'

Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger told the striking workers that Leslie Fay is "turning its back on American workers to go and exploit workers somewhere else."

"The garment industry is the heart of this borough and this city," Messinger said. "If the industry is going to be strong then it has to maintain its production jobs. I say to Leslie Fay, 'Maintain domestic production.' It's the right moral decision."Standing in front of a sign that read, "Let's Keep Leslie Fay in the U.S.A.," ILGWU president Jay Mazur incited thunderous cheers when he said, "We're going to win because we're right. We're going to win because we're united."

Mazur also read a letter of support from Ron Carey, international president of the Teamsters.

Jack Granahan, a striking worker from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., said that after 37 years on the job, the company has offered him a $6,500 severance package for early retirement.

"I have a message to John Pomerantz," Granahan said. "John, I think its time for you to retire and let somebody run the company who knows what they're doing."

Jeff Hermanson, national organizing director for the ILGWU, said that while the rally was going on, union members were leafleting 20 Saks Fifth Avenue stores across the country, asking consumers to boycott the store because it sells Leslie Fay products.

At the Saks flagship store, on Fifth Avenue here, striking workers and union organizers handed out leaflets that said, "Boycott Saks Fifth Avenue." The leaflet said the union has appealed to Saks to stop doing business with Leslie Fay, but the store has "turned a deaf ear to us and our communities."

Dave Johnson, an organizer at the scene, said, "We don't expect people to necessarily boycott Saks. But hopefully, they will boycott Leslie Fay. If we can persuade 5 percent of the customers, then this will have some meaning."

The Dallas Galleria unit of Saks was also one of the 20 stores where leaflets were distributed. Ten demonstrators from the ILGWU's Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas District Council passed out the leaflets at the store's main outside entrance. The demonstration was derailed after about 45 minutes, though, by mall security officers who claimed that the protesters were trespassing on private property and asked them to leave.

Leslie Fay officials insisted Thursday that the boycott would have no impact on its business.

"The ILGWU's proposed boycott is unjustified, counterproductive and destined for failure," Babcock said in a statement. "It is difficult to believe that consumers will support a boycott that would only result in higher prices on the merchandise they purchase. Consumers have already voted with their pocketbooks by demanding low-price garments manufactured overseas."Babcock said he feels the real reason the union "is making a scene" is because the company wants to stop paying liquidated damages "directly into the union's coffers" and instead "redirect theses funds to job retraining and placement programs that can really benefit our employees."

As reported, Leslie Fay has sued the union over the liquidated damages, which are fees companies pay to the union on imported merchandise, claiming it constitutes a violation of labor law.

Following the rally, the demonstrators marched through the garment district to Herald Square, where they sang the union "Solidarity Forever" anthem and dispersed. Along the way, Mazur told WWD that while a meeting with management and a federal mediators is planned for today, he was not optimistic about reaching an agreement today.

While the rally was still taking place, a small delegation of strikers met with John Cardinal O'Connor, at his midtown office. Cardinal O'Connor said he was not in a position to comment on the nature of any strike.

However, referring to the Leslie Fay proposal to shift production abroad, he said to reporters after the meeting, "I would strongly urge that this move not be made. I would be very happy to talk with the corporate owners of the corporation if they wanted to talk to me to see if I can say or do anything to persuade them not to leave.

"The American economy is hurt by jobs lost and other countries are hurt by taking jobs from American workers for what can be starvation wages."

In a letter to Cardinal O'Connor, Pomerantz explained the company's position and said he "welcomed to opportunity to discuss the matter" with him.

--with contributions from ROSEMARY FEITELBERG and RUSTY WILLIAMSON, Dallas

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