Sit-In Keeps Factory Open
Inspired by last year’s win by employees at Republic Windows and Doors, workers at the Des Plaines, Illinois, Hartmarx factory voted to stage a sit-in this June against banking giant Wells Fargo.
Wells Fargo was the man creditor of Hartmarx, a century-old apparel company that manufactured the tuxedo Barack Obama wore to his inauguration. Early this year, Hartmarx declared bankruptcy after Wells Fargo denied the company a line of credit. Wells Fargo then threatened to liquidate Hartmarx and lay off its workers, rejecting offers by several investors to buy the company.
Nearly 500 Hartmarx workers voted to occupy the factory to prevent its closure, taking inspiration from the Republic workers who successfully recovered their accrued vacation time and severance pay after occupying the Chicago factory last year.
Forty-three members of Congress sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geither, asking him to pressure Wells Fargo to keep Hartmarx intact and decrying “financial institutions that are receiving taxpayer assistance but refusing to provide credit in this tough economic climate.”
Illinois treasurer Alexi Giannoulias threatened to move the state’s accounts out of Wells Fargo. “They can either do the right thing and save 1,000 jobs, or they are not going to do business with the state of Illinois,” Giannoulias said.
These efforts pushed Wells Fargo to accept a bid from Emerisque Brands to buy the company and preserve the workers’ jobs.
The win adds fuel to another campaign targeting Wells Fargo’s move to cut off credit to Quad City Die Casting in Moline, Illinois, jeopardizing the jobs of its 100 factory workers. This summer, members of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America held protests at 20 Wells Fargo branch offices. On July 9, nearly a dozen union supporters were arrested for blocking a road in front of a Wells Fargo branch in Rock Island, Illinois. The protesters called Wells Fargo “a roadblock to recovery.”
—Laura Kaliebe is a journalist living in Seattle.
Green Economy Going Strong
Despite the recession, the green economy is outperforming the rest of the global economy, according to two new reports. New energy investment in renewable sources in 2008 surpassed worldwide investment in fossil fuel power for the first time, says a report released by the United Nations in June. In the United States, green jobs grew more than twice as fast as the overall job market between 1998 and 2007, and the green economy has suffered fewer setbacks than the economy as a whole, according to data released by the Pew Charitable Trusts.