Workers smiling at Des Plaines clothing factory

August 12, 2010 4:26:20 AM PDT
One year ago, employees at the Hartmarx plant in the northwest suburbs faced layoffs, bankruptcy and a takeover.

Now, the company says it's not just surviving, but thriving. More jobs, in fact, have been added in the last year at that Des Plaines facility. And workers say they are now more focused on the future than the past.

Wednesday, Marina Franceschi was where she has been since 1956, pressing suits at the Hartmarx plant in Des Plaines, and reflecting on those anxious days last year when 600 jobs here were nearly lost.

"I was worried about my friends that have children in college, about people losing their houses," said Franceschi.

It was one year ago that Hart Schaffner Marx was acquired by another company, effectively saving the bankrupt clothier from liquidation.

Since then, the company, which counts President Obama as a customer, says the Des Plaines factory is now running at full-capacity, adding 40 jobs since last year.

And, while some workers talked of slight wage cuts from job reassignments, little seems to have changed for most.

"I have the same job. I have the same seniority," said Ruby Sims, Workers United Local 39C president. "Same wages."

But the new Hartmarx didn't happen without some sacrifice.

State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias leaned on Hartmarx's creditors to keep the company alive, which he touts in his Senate campaign ads.

But, while the Des Plaines factory was saved, other Hartmarx facilities, including one in Rock Island, were closed.

"We fought hard to keep Hartmarx open. We fought hard to keep other companies open," said Giannoulias. "I'm hopeful and optimistic we can go back to the Quad Cities, and hopefully in a few months and a few years, maybe get that place going again."

"We are committed to American manufacturing. We are committed to manufacturing here in Des Plaines," said Doug Williams, HMX Group CEO.

Thursday, Marina Franceschi turns 77. And, like most mornings, she plans to rise at 3 a.m. and board two buses and a train to Des Plaines.

As for the future, recent published reports, including one in the Wall Street Journal, have suggested Hartmarx's new owners are considering moving the Des Plaines operation overseas.

Wednesday, though, the company's CEO vehemently denied those reports. He said those jobs in Des Plaines aren't going anywhere.


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