Workers walk; Main St. ops to close

Carole Sloan, October 27, 2003

Joan Fabrics will close its Main Street Textiles "state of the art" fabrics manufacturing facility in Fall River, MA, by April 30, 2004.

The plant, more than 500,000 square feet, was hit by an unexpected walkout of "a significant portion of the workforce" in Fall River on October 14. Many of those workers returned to work on October 20, according to Martie Voland, assistant manager of the New England joint board of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), which is organizing a union movement at the presently non-union facility.

According to the memo to "all associates" dated October 17 and signed by Wade Martin, vp, operations for Main Street, layoffs would begin on that date, and continue "at various times, subject to the availability of work."

The closing announcement, which came on October 16 was not a result of the walkout, the company said.

"Unfortunately, in spite of the large investment in property and equipment, our Fall River operations are the least competitive within our group of companies," said Elkin McCallum, chairman of Joan Fabrics, the largest decorative/upholstery fabric producer in the United States and parent of Main Street, Mastercraft, Home Fabrics, Circa 1880/Doblin and Joan Velvets.

"Lower productivity and higher operating costs in Fall River are the key factors in making this difficult decision," he said.

The company will move weaving, finishing and distribution to company facilities in North Carolina and Mexico. Only the Main Street division fabrics are affected, the company emphasized in a statement to customers.

Joan made the decision to build the Fall River facility in 1999 with an investment in excess of $40 million. The plant closing will result in a loss of 400 jobs with an annual payroll and benefits of about $25 million.

"The continuing weakness in demand in all of our market sectors, combined with margin pressures from low-cost imports, has forced us to reevaluate and consolidate our domestic manufacturing capability," McCallum added. In April, McCallum announced plans for a joint venture in China.

Joan said it expects to complete the shifting of production from the Fall River plant within 60 days.

In an unrelated move, Stephanie Bernier, executive vp of Main Street Fabrics, has left the firm.

UNITE's Voland said, "We have started working to form a union at Main Street. We have filed a petition with the NLRB to have a recognized union and to set up a secret ballot election for the purposes of collective bargaining." Toland added, "We need 30 percent of the workers, but our policy is to get more than a majority." Generally, she added, this can happen 42 days after the petition.

She added that Joan has said if customers back the plant it will not close.

Joan has had manufacturing facilities in Fall River since 1966.

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