He has his work cut out for him

August 08, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

These are frustrating times for Carmen Papale.

The highest-ranking Maryland official of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers of America has seen his share of apparel companies close down under the onslaught of foreign competition. Now he is facing the prospects of seeing London Fog -- one of Maryland's best-known manufacturers -- close its three remaining plants, ending the jobs of 700 union members.

"Of course it has been upsetting to me. Very upsetting," said the 57-year-old Mr. Papale. "It's frustrating that we couldn't work something out."

After five months of agonizing negotiations, which have included the desperate intervention by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and two Maryland congressmen, London Fog announced July 29 that it would close its plants in Baltimore, Hancock and Williamsport by October.

Even though there is a faint hope that a meeting between the union and management scheduled for tomorrow in New York might turn the situation around, participants on all sides, including Mr. Papale, are not optimistic. "That's the hope that we got -- the hope that we are meeting," he said.

"He is also doing a lot of praying," added his wife, Chris Papale.

The dispute originally centered on a company demand that arbitration involving import restrictions be dropped. But on June 14, after the union refused to drop the arbitration without a three-year work guarantee, the company withdrew the proposal.

Since then, talks have been further complicated by new proposals for wage concessions and the elimination of union seniority, Mr. Papale said.

The company and government officials have placed much of the blame on the collapse of the talks on Mr. Papale and the union's unwillingness to unconditionally drop the arbitration -- a charge Mr. Papale rejects. "Unions don't close companies," he said. "Companies close companies."

Indeed, in the 12 years that he has led the Baltimore region of the ACTWA, Mr. Papale has established a reputation as a cooperative official who is willing to accept concessions to save jobs.

As the head of a union that has seen its regional membership shrink from 20,000 in the early 1970s to 6,500 currently, Mr. Papale said he has tried to balance the needs of his members against those of the employers -- an assessment shared by those on the other side of the table.

"I would rank him among the more realistic," said veteran man agement attorney William J. Rosenthal, who has dealt with Mr. Papale for years in clothing company negotiations. "If he recognizes the legitimate need for concessions, he'll do it," he said.

A senior partner of the labor law firm of Shawe & Rosenthal, Mr. Rosenthal said Mr. Papale is a "skilled and knowledgeable negotiator" dedicated to his membership.

"However, I've also found him to be a realist when it comes to the problems faced today by the domestic men's clothing industry and the job security of his members," Mr. Rosenthal said.

Mark J. Falcone, chief executive officer of English American Tailoring company, said Mr. Papale cooperated with his company to the benefit of both.

"I think Carmen is from the new era," said Mr. Falcone. "If you can show him how its going to benefit his people . . . he will go out on a limb for you," he said.

The company, which makes high-end custom-made men's suits in Westminster, has gone to the union on some occasions to ask for help, including a 5 percent wage cut in 1990 and to smooth the way for plant automation about a year ago. "He wants what is best for his workers, but he wants it in a way that is fair to everybody," Mr. Falcone said.

The union's assent has helped the company increase the number of workers at the Westminster plant from about 230 five years ago to 400 now.

Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc., the Owings Mills maker of menswear, also found Mr. Papale and the union willing to take a wage cut when the company was faced with the prospects of bankruptcy four years ago as the result of a botched leverage buyout.

"They stepped up to the plate and helped us out when we needed help," said Timothy F. Finley, the chairman and chief executive of the company. "He has been fair and we have gone overboard to be fair with him," he said.

But Mr. Papale is not a detached negotiator. By his own admission, he becomes very emotionally involved and can erupt into screaming matches with management. "He comes home with a sore throat now and then and I know he was screaming," said his wife.

"I get very frustrated in negotiations," Mr. Papale said.

Despite the frustrations, he said he has no intention of leaving his position or seeking higher union office. "I love my job. I want to do as much as I can for the workers."

Ernie R. Grecco, president of the Metropolitan Baltimore Council of the AFL-CIO and a longtime friend, is familiar with Mr. Papale's temper. While Mr. Papale can be hard-nosed and stubborn, Mr. Grecco said, he also is reasonable and has worked with management to save plants.

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