By  on June 13, 1994

NEW YORK -- The 12-day-old strike by the ILGWU against The Leslie Fay Cos. is beginning to take its toll on the company's contractors.

North American Knitting Co., Mansfield, Ohio, the largest contract manufacturer for Castleberry Knits, a division of Leslie Fay,, notified the ILGWU last week that it intends to close down on Aug. 15 as a result of the labor dispute.

Al Sardelli, plant manager at the knitting firm, said the letter of intent was sent in accordance with its collective bargaining agreement with the union, which requires a 60-day notice of shutdown.

Reached Friday at the Mansfield plant, Sardelli said, "We're closed because of the strike. We're not out of business now, but we're close."

The ILGWU ordered the 85 union employees at the 30,000-square-foot knitwear plant to strike even though they have no direct grievance with North American, Sardelli said.

"It's not North American Knitting against the ILGWU. It's Leslie Fay. We're basically pawns in this game," he said. However, under its labor contract, North American cannot work for a customer who is involved with a labor dispute with the union, he said.

"Our income has been cut off," he said, noting that his company's contract with Castleberry runs until March 1, 1995.

"The ILGWU forced our workers to go on strike. When I say forced, I mean forced," he said. "They did not allow them to vote. Our people are up in arms because they didn't want to strike."

When 28 union employees crossed the picket line on June 1, the ILGWU threatened to seek an injunction, Sardelli said.

Commenting on North American's proposed shutdown, Michael J. Babcock, Leslie Fay president, said, "We have long had a good relationship with American Knitting and had every intention of continuing to use this subcontractor in the future, because it produced excellent quality goods at a reasonable cost."

Susan Cowell, vice president of the ILGWU, said she was aware of the fact that North American Knitting may be forced to shut down.

"That would be a significant loss for Castleberry Knits if [North American] closes," she said. "We would like to preserve as many jobs as possible. Unfortunately, this is one of the consequences of the strike. Hopefully, if we settle, we will overcome that and those jobs will come back."James Corrado, vice president of operations for Castleberry Knits, said North American Knitting manufactures 65 percent to 70 percent of its goods. All Castleberry knitwear is manufactured domestically, he said.

"If the union believes forcing my factory in Ohio to close is going to make Leslie Fay change its mind, they're wrong," he said. "The union is doing more damage than good at this point."

Corrado said Castleberry intends to maintain its manufacturing in the U.S. "In the past 17 years, we have looked into manufacturing overseas, but we were unsuccessful in finding comparable work. It can't be done."

Salco Knitting Mills, the Brooklyn-based manufacturer that produces the remainder of Castleberry's garments, may also be facing strike-related problems, Corrado said. He said that 90 percent of the goods produced by Salco are Castleberry products and that Salco is adhering to the union's request not to produce Leslie Fay goods. Corrado said the factory was closed on Friday because Castleberry garments were scheduled to be produced. Phone calls to Salco Knitting Mills were not answered.

Meanwhile, negotiations between the union and Leslie Fay negotiators that were set to resume on Friday were postponed until today. The talks were reset because of scheduling conflicts, according to both parties.

Today's session will be mediated by Irwin Gerard, a commissioner with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, at an undisclosed location here. The primary issue in the controversy is Leslie Pay's plan to shut its own U.S. factories, which account for about 28 percent of its business. The firm says it needs to move this production overseas to remain competitive.

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