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Hollander affirms shipments

Marvin Lazaro -- Home Textiles Today, April 30, 2001

BOCA RATON, FL — Despite almost two months of strikes by Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) members, Hollander Home Fashions says it will meet its shipping schedules for all of its customers' orders.

On March 8, 500 employees walked out of Hollander's Vernon, CA, plant. Four days later, according to UNITE, workers from the company's Tignall, GA, plant also walked out on a sympathy strike despite the existence of a contract. The work stoppage centers around a dispute over retirement benefits for factory workers.

UNITE maintains that its members should have a retirement plan in place, while Hollander says employees should be free to do what they want with their money, whether it be to invest in a company 401(k) plan or to create personal accounts.

"We are operating at full capacity and will meet all of our requirements," Jeff Hollander, president, told Home Textiles Today. "Our customers can be assured of that.

"We do care about our employees, and we want what's right for them." Jeff added. "We want for them to do what they want with their money rather than being forced into a decision by the union. To me, the union is saying, 'We know what's better for you more than you do.'"

Despite Hollander's assurances, UNITE spokesperson Katie Shaller said the strike was affecting the Boca Raton, FL-based Hollander's production and shipping schedule.

"We're prepared to do whatever it takes to get Hollander to do the right thing and get them to the table," Shaller told Home Textiles Today. "We're in this fight for the long haul."

Although the company has offered its striking workers a contract, Jeff Hollander thinks the union leadership, based in New York, has pulled the proverbial sheet over its members' eyes by portraying the offer as unfair. He believes that if employees had a chance to vote secretly, many would vote in favor of Hollander's offer and end the strike.

Hollander acknowledges that it does not have a 401(k) plan in place for its factory workers, yet it does for management. However, managers and executives must pay for a portion of their health insurance, while it is a 100 percent paid benefit for factory workers. "Appropriate choices" are provided for everyone, Jeff Hollander said, so the company can retain its work force and recruit future employees. Regarding a pension plan, he said he felt government IRAs would provide workers with more control over their money.

"It's surprising that a company in this day and age can deny its workers a retirement plan and is willing to jeopardize its business over this issue," UNITE's Shaller said. "The company has done nothing to support its employees who have given their lives producing high-quality goods."

UNITE has also alleged that because there is no retirement plan in place at the Los Angeles plant, the company is discriminating against the largely Latino work force, something Leo Hollander, president/ceo, called "a shameful lie."

He added, "I come from South America, and I am proud of Hollander's record in making jobs at all levels, including at the highest tier of management, available for all minorities."

Jeff Hollander said that of the 100 people employed by the company at Tignall, approximately 20 had crossed the line, 60 had been permanently replaced and the other were 20 brought in from a temp agency. Of the 500 employees at the Los Angeles plant, approximately 80 had returned to work while the rest of the work force had been filled in by replacements, temps and management.

But Shaller said she did not know of any workers who had crossed the line, adding that solidarity had remained strong and that the strike "was impressive in terms of support and numbers."

"While we are hopeful that a settlement will be forthcoming, we are in a position to maintain customer shipments and meet all requirements as long as necessary," Jeff Hollander said. "We hope that the union will eventually permit our workers to have a confidential vote, as we believe that they will accept our proposals. The only thing holding this up is the union leadership in New York."

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