By  on October 19, 2009

Six months after union officials said Hugo Boss intended to close its Cleveland suit factory, and with it cut hundreds of jobs, the company has reversed its thinking and confirmed it is negotiating with the plant’s union, Workers United.

“Hugo Boss management can confirm that discussions with the union representing the hourly production employees of Hugo Boss Cleveland have begun regarding a new contract to replace the one set to expire in April 2010,” said Dr. Andreas Stockert, the Metzingen, Germany-based company’s chief operating officer. “The company is focused on the negotiation process with the goal of reaching an agreement.”

A new contract could extend the jobs for the factory’s 400 workers, 320 of which are union members. The facility, which has served as the center of Boss’ American suit production for 20 years, produces 150,000 sleeves annually.

Bruce Raynor, president of Workers United, said there have been two rounds of talks between the union and executives from both the company’s headquarters and North American division, including the latter’s chief executive Mark Brashear. This is a departure from negotiations held last year, which were lead by company attorneys. At that time, the union said the company was not looking to renegotiate its collective bargaining agreement and communicated its intention to close the facility.

“This has been a positive move,” Raynor said. “We’re now sitting down with people who better understand the realities of the market.”

Raynor said he is cautiously optimistic about reaching an agreement before the spring deadline, but noted talks had not yet resolved major details of the agreement, including a number of potential sticking points like the length of the contract, the number of workers the factory would employ and wage rates.

“We want to preserve jobs and create some security,” said Raynor.

Boss declined to provide details of the negotiations but said they were necessary to keep the factory “competitive within the global marketplace.”

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