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Hartmarx workers vote to 'sit in' style action
May '09
500 workers at the Chicago-based apparel firm Hart Schaffner & Marx held a rally and historic "sit in" vote to fight for their jobs as major lender and TARP fund recipient Wells Fargo & Co. pushes for a bankruptcy closure of the facility.

"Everyone at the plant is worried about their future. It all hinges on Wells Fargo. They have to do the right thing and allow this company to be reorganized--so jobs can be saved," explained Ruby Simms, a 32-year veteran of the Hart Schaffner & Marx factory in Des Plaines, IL.

The workers voted in favor of a "sit in" style action, which means that if Wells Fargo or a buyer tries to begin liquidation or close the factory, the workers will respond by physically remaining at their job site.

The struggle of the Hartmarx workers mirrors that of the 250 Republic Windows and Doors workers who saved their own jobs last December when Bank of America tried to shutter their doors. State and national leaders are increasingly standing up for Hartmarx workers, members of the union Workers United (an SEIU affiliate), and slamming Wells Fargo--a $25 billion taxpayer bailout recipient--for shortsightedly refusing to invest in U.S. companies and workers.

Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias has vowed, "Unless the company remains open, [Wells Fargo] will not be doing business with the state of Illinois any longer."

"Wells Fargo has received $25 billion in taxpayer assistance through TARP. In other words, the workers Wells Fargo may throw out on the street have been subsidizing its operations during these tough economic times. So much for returning the favor," said Member of Congress Phil Hare, who also worked in the men's clothing industry as a cutter for 13 years.

The Hartmarx workers' struggle sounds the alarm on what could be a cascade of job losses and company closures perpetuated by U.S. financial institutions.

"Voting to sit in, these workers are standing up for all of us," says Noel Beasley, Director of the Chicago/Midwest Regional Joint Board and Executive Vice President of Workers United, the union that represents the Hartmarx workers. "The future of the economy and the future of this country are all about good jobs. The vote today says Hartmarx workers are going to hold banks accountable for how they spend taxpayers' money and how they contribute to the future of our economy."

Chicago-based Hartmarx, the largest menswear manufacturing company in the nation, filed for bankruptcy protection in January after U.S. banks curtailed its lines of credit. The clothing maker employs 3,500 across the nation, with about 1,000 of its employees located in Rock Island and suburban Des Plaines where suits for President Obama are made.

Tom Balanoff, president of the SEIU Illinois State Council, called on America's banks to stand by working women and men: "This is a historical moment. This is where workers take a stand against shortsighted banking practices that cost American jobs. Workers don't want financial institutions like Bank of America and now Wells Fargo hurting their livelihoods. Our banking system should be helping to save jobs."

Service Employees International Union

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