London Fog may shut 3 Maryland factories

June 04, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

London Fog Corp. says it may permanently close its 300-employee Baltimore plant and two other factories in Hancock and Williamsport -- all of the company's U.S. production facilities -- because of a negotiating impasse with the union representing its Maryland workers.

The dispute has "put the plants at risk, and it would seem unlikely that we would go forward with them," Arnold P. Cohen, London Fog's chairman and chief executive officer, said yesterday. "We've done the best we can do."

The Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers union, which represents the workers, says the company is not negotiating in good faith on an arbitration issue and is changing work rules at the three plants.

"It wouldn't surprise me if it was their intention to shut the three factories," said Carmen S. Papale, international vice president and the top Maryland official for the Amalgamated Clothing union.

Mr. Cohen said a decision on the three plants will be made this month.

The three factories all produce London Fog raincoats. The Baltimore plant at Park Circle Enterprise Zone in northwest Baltimore sews the coats together, as does the factory in Hancock, which also has 300 workers, according to Mr. Papale. The Williamsport operation, with about 100 workers, cuts out the material that is then sent to the other two plants. Workers make a base rate of $7.60, according to company attorney Peter Walker.

Earlier this year, the company shut down another Baltimore plant, with 70 workers, along with factories in Boonsboro and Portsmouth, Va., which had a combined work force of 575.

The dispute centers on a company proposal to have the three factories begin production of an inexpensive raincoat called the Towne, which has been produced exclusively overseas, Mr. Cohen said.

But as a condition of that new production, the company asked the union to drop an arbitration case concerning a contract provision limiting imports of London Fog raincoats -- a separate brand from the Towne.

If that arbitration case continues and the Towne is produced domestically, it could confuse the difference between the two brands, subjecting the Towne line to the import limits in the labor contract and jeopardize overseas production, Mr. Cohen said. "That's suicidal," he said. Instead the company wanted the union to "acknowledge that Towne is a separate brand," Mr. Cohen said.

The production of Towne coats in the factories is a "key component" of the company's plan to reduce losses at the plants by spreading fixed costs over more production, he said.

The union says it is willing to drop the arbitration case, but only if London Fog extends its proposal to guarantee workers at least 70 percent of their normal workweek hours from October 1995 to June 1997. "It's unreasonable to extend it," Mr. Cohen said. "The union is not giving us back anything."

However, Mr. Papale said the guarantee, which would assure workers of only 28 hours a week, is not very generous. "That's not a heck of a big guarantee," he said. "We're saying, 'Give us a guarantee that means something.' "

The company was founded in Baltimore in 1922 and had its headquarters in Eldersburg until it was moved to Darien, Conn., this year.

The company is expected to have sales of $500 million this year after its merger with Pacific Trails Inc. of Seattle.

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