Hampstead wrestles with layoffs Jos. A. Bank hopeful another firm will buy plant set for closing

'This really hurts'

Clothier says it still is committed to city, but workers bitter

November 20, 1995|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Hampstead greeted the announcement with mixed emotions.

Officials at Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc. said last week they were optimistic about selling or leasing the South Carroll Street sewing factory they plan to close in February, bringing new owners with new jobs. But most of the 100 machine operators and table sewers who will be laid off were bitter, fretting over where they can find work in a dying industry.

David Ullman, chief financial officer at Bank corporate headquarters on the south end of town, said the clothing retailer remains committed to Hampstead.

"We want the public to know that Jos. A. Bank does employ over 300 [at corporate headquarters]," he said. "We are not abandoning Hampstead."

But Nony Bittner, 32, of Spring Grove, Pa., said abandoned is what she feels after 13 years with the company.

"My husband and I just bought a new house," she said. "We all will get some severance pay, but we haven't seen anything in writing yet."

For Frances Neudecker of Westminster, losing her job is frightening.

"I am 58 years old," she said. "Who is going to hire me? I've been sewing for 41 years. I have no other skills."

Kathi Cartzendafner, 50, of Littlestown, Pa., is the secretary-treasurer of Local 806 for the Baltimore Regional Joint Board of the Union of Needletrades Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) and has twice endured job displacements.

"This really hurts those in need of insurance," she said. "A lot of our employees have cancer, or high blood pressure, or heart problems," she said. "It's a pre-existing condition. You can't go anywhere and get insurance."

Ms. Cartzendafner, who has worked at the 35,000-square-foot building since it opened 16 years ago, said union representatives from Baltimore will bring details of the company's severance package to Hampstead next week.

"Whatever it is, it's not going to be enough for the workers," she said.

Even if the displaced workers find jobs, they'll have to drive to Westminster, Frederick or Baltimore, she said. "And they'll be at the bottom [of the seniority list] and the first ones to be laid off," she said.

The women and men who make men's coats at the South Carroll Street factory accepted salary reductions ranging from 5 percent to 20 percent in January, Ms. Cartzendafner said. "We thought that would save the company and save our jobs," she said.

Company officials said that Bank is shifting to production of more casual clothing and that suit sales were down, said Doris Eckhard, 35, of Westminster. Ms. Eckhard has worked at Bank for nearly 13 years and serves on the union's executive board.

For the company, 100 fewer employees means a "substantial savings," at a time when third-quarter sales in men's clothing have dropped 14.7 percent to $30.8 million from $36.1 million over the same period last year, Bank officials said.

The consumer trend is moving away from tailored clothing and toward casual wear, they said.

Jos. A. Bank recently launched its new casual line and devoted most of its advertising budget to promote the new product.

Town officials remained diplomatic, sympathetic to both management and labor.

"It has to hurt other town businesses, to the extent employees get out [and spend money] for lunch. It's a drain and has to have an adverse impact on all businesses when 100 workers lose their jobs," said Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin.

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