Friday, April 16, 2010

Clothing workers fight to save their jobs

By Martha Grevatt
Published Apr 15, 2010 8:52 PM

On April 7 hundreds of Cleveland union members rallied to support 300 workers fighting to keep the Hugo Boss men’s suit factory open.

The German clothing manufacturer has operated the plant since 1995 when it bought it from Joseph and Feiss, which had been making suits in the Cleveland area since the 1800s. Many of the workers have worked in the factory for decades, yet their top pay is only $12.80 an hour. In October the members of Workers United voted down a pay reduction to $8.30 an hour. In the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day the company announced it would close the Brooklyn, Ohio, plant and move work to Turkey and possibly Bulgaria or Romania.

The rally for the workers, one of many since the December announcement, drew representatives of at least two dozen public and private sector unions. The Hugo Boss workers, who are mostly immigrants and workers of color, came out in full force. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland were among elected officials who addressed the workers.

The real keynote speaker, however, was actor Danny Glover. Since learning of the rotten deal Hugo Boss workers were getting, Glover publicly sided with the union. The renowned actor successfully convinced Academy Awards attendees not to wear Boss suits to the ceremonies.

Workers and their supporters were buoyant over the announcement that the National Labor Relations Board had upheld a complaint of unfair labor practices filed by Workers United. The NLRB ordered Boss back to the bargaining table; talks on the pay cut and plant closing resumed the day after the rally. This victory came about because of the determination of the workers and their supporters.

After the rally, members of the Cleveland chapter of Bail Out the People Movement confronted the politicians. They should do more than just speak at rallies, BOPM members argued. They should take stronger action against companies like Boss by freezing their assets and/or seizing their plants through eminent domain.

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