UNITE Comes Calling, but Brylane CEO Not In

NEW YORK -- Bruce Raynor tried to take UNITE's campaign to organize workers at Brylane Inc.'s Indianapolis distribution center straight to chief executive officer Russell Stravitz's Seventh Avenue office on Monday.<P>But he got no further than the...

NEW YORK — Bruce Raynor tried to take UNITE’s campaign to organize workers at Brylane Inc.’s Indianapolis distribution center straight to chief executive officer Russell Stravitz’s Seventh Avenue office on Monday.

This story first appeared in the June 25, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

But he got no further than the catalog company’s 21st-floor lobby.

UNITE president Raynor, along with New York State Sen. Thomas K. Duane, AFL-CIO executive vice president Linda Chavez and former Brylane employee Melody Purvis, broke off from a noon rally the union had staged in front of the company’s headquarters at 463 Seventh Avenue and packed themselves into an elevator in an attempt to meet Stravitz face-to-face.

But when they arrived at the 21st floor, they found an empty lobby and an abandoned reception desk. With no one answering the bell or phone, and the only Brylane employee to be seen was a woman who didn’t give her name but seemed to believe she had picked the wrong moment to step out for lunch, the group found themselves cooling their heels.

“It’s just typical of the company’s reaction to things,” Raynor said. “They feel that they don’t have to discuss anything they don’t want to discuss. They remain in the union-fighting business.”

UNITE has been trying to organize the 1,000 Indianapolis workers since October. Several workers, including Purvis, claim to have been fired for their support of the union. The National Labor Relations Board has investigated 14 claims related to the case, including one new complaint filed Monday, according to Roger LaForge, an assistant regional director in Indianapolis. Ten complaints have been dismissed by the NLRB or withdrawn by the complainants and two are being appealed.

At the heart of the dispute is how the union should be recognized. UNITE claims that a majority of the workers have signed union cards and that the company should allow a count of those cards to determine whether to unionize the location. Brylane officials contend that they will accept only an NLRB-sanctioned election. Both methods are considered legally valid ways of ratifying a union’s representation of workers.

Stravitz could not be reached Monday. But Audrey Wathen, Brylane’s senior vice president of human resources, said: “There is another group of employees at Brylane who feel just as strongly that no union is needed. It’s that reason that we as a company feel the only way to do this is through a secret-ballot election. We will respect the outcome of that.”

With no one to meet with, the delegation returned to the crowd of about 200 members of UNITE, and other locals, who also heard from Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

“The workers have decided,” said Raynor when he returned. Referring to Brylane management’s resistance to the card check, he added: “They’ll either agree now or agree later, but they’ll agree.””