NEW YORK — The roughly 200 manufacturing workers at Judith Leiber LLC’s Manhattan factory went on strike Tuesday, with the employees and the company pointing fingers at each other over wage issues.
The striking employees and officials of Local 342 of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union that represents them, claimed the firm had asked workers to accept wage cuts. The company denied that charge, saying it had offered “fair wage increases.” Neither side offered any actual numbers.
The workers formed a picket line in the street in front of the firm’s factory and headquarters building at 20 West 33rd Street, and picketers and union officials vowed to remain there until a new contract was reached. The union’s four-year contract with the firm expired April 24.
“The company made a final proposal and the members voted not to accept it, and they voted to strike,” said Joe Lopez, a negotiator with Local 342 of the UFCWU.
Picketers handed out flyers to passersby charging that “the company is asking for wage concessions for us.”
In a statement, the firm said it “has proposed fair wage increases for its employees and has not requested any wage concessions.” It added it “has had only one meaningful collective bargaining session with the union. This meeting went late into the evening on Friday, Sept. 10, and resulted in what we thought to be significant progress.”
Representatives for both sides were unable to explain the discrepancy in their statements.
A spokesman for Local 342 said the firm had asked workers to agree to lower wages, a claim also voiced by several of the striking workers, most of whom declined to be identified.
A spokeswoman for Judith Leiber said the firm stood by its statement, adding, “It would be inappropriate for us to comment further. Negotiations are ongoing.”
Mohammed Alladin, who said he’d worked in manufacturing at the handbag firm for about 20 years, said the wages proposed weren’t acceptable for the intricate detail work that goes into making the firm’s jeweled purses. Pointing to many of the women walking the picket line with him, he said, “They work here three months and then they need glasses.”
The 40-year-old firm is believed to have about $30 million in annual sales.
Apparel manufacturing has been on the decline in New York City for decades. As of July, the industry employed about 29,500 workers, a 12.5 percent decline from a year earlier, according to data from the New York State Labor Department.