Carhartt plant saved

by Mike Kroll

In a welcome example of good local economic development news officials from UNITE (United Needleworkers and Industrial Textile Employees), local politicians and grateful Carhartt employees celebrated their success in keeping the local plant in Galesburg. A rally of union members and media was held Tuesday afternoon at the Galesburg Labor Temple to announce that the work clothing manufacturing plant may even expand now -- despite news only a month ago that a corporate decision had been made by Carhartt, Inc. in Dearborn, Mich. to close the facility. Employees had even been shown examples of work clothes made in Guatemala.

Local union leaders have lobbied tirelessly with lawmakers and company official ever since the January 6th announcement of the pending plant closing. Congressman Lane Evans and State Representative Don Moffitt were thanked by name for their championing of this local industrial concern. State Senator Carl Hawkinson also lent his support to the union's efforts. Evans even mentioned the situation to President Bill Clinton last week as they flew together in Air Force One to a rally in Quincy.

The facility now known as Carhartt was originally known as the Gross Brothers Manufacturing Co. when it was established in Galesburg by Joseph Gross (and apparently a brother or two) to manufacture overalls in February 1901. After operating out of increasingly-larger facilities on East Main Street, Seminary and Mulberry Streets and East Ferris Street, the firm, known by then as Gross Galesburg, Inc. built a new factory at 2900 West Main Street in 1973. The facility was expanded in 1991. It remained family-owned by the Gross family until its sale to the current owners late last century.

In a rare turn of events the plant was saved without employee concessions or the offering of financial ''incentives.'' Instead it was presumably the company's fear of being perceived as unsupportive of labor by the working men and women who are its market. The firm's slogan, ''Original equipment for the American worker'' would seem to be compromised if many of those workers, union members themselves, were expected to buy clothing without a union label. A number of major unions reportedly let the company know how strongly they felt about keeping this Galesburg plant open and saving over 100 area jobs.

Company officials are now actively considering expanding the range of work clothing produced at the Galesburg plant and thereby expanding its workforce in the not-to-distant future according to UNITE Local 465C president Andrea Wetterow. ''Potentially we may even double the current workforce.''

Notably absent from the rally and unmentioned by anyone involved were the Galesburg area Economic Development Council officials or their those from Galesburg 2000. While these two groups claim that business retention is their primary activity, members of the Local 456C Executive Board explicitly said that neither group participated in this remarkable project.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online February 14, 2000

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