Perfection Garment Company Strike

The Martinsburg Journal
April 23, 1953

Strike at Perfection; Dispute Effectiveness

Local Plant, Others Picketed; Figures on Number Out Conflict

The first industrial strike here in the past 12 years developed this morning when picket lines were set up by the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union at the Perfection Garment Company.

Pickets were also on duty at the Perfection branch operations in Ranson and Keyser.

Effectiveness of the strike was debated by both company and union officials, the company claiming that some 200 of the approximately 400 employes were on the job and the union stating that only about 60 production employes had gone through the picket line.

A count of picket at 7 a.m. today, the normal time for start of work, revealed approximately 125. A count of employes standing inside the picket lines on company property showed at least 75 with some others inside uncounted.

There were numerous outbreaks of minor disturbances early this morning as persons attempted to cross the picket line. Two arrests were made by City Police on duty.

Arrested were Aaron M. Crim, Jr., 731 West John stret [sic], charged with reckless driving, and Murray Markoff, of Baltimore, Md., union organizer, charged with disorderly conduct. Both posted cash bonds for later trial in Police Court. Crim was arrested after he had driven his auto through the picket line, scattering the strikers. Markoff was arrested for allegedly assaulting Crim immediately after this incident.

Pickets Mostly Women

About 85 percent of the pickets were women, approximately the same percentage of those entering the plant. There were several incidents of pickets grabbing those crossing the line while on several other occasions, women who had already crossed the line returned in a group to tussle with the pickets. In all cases, police broke up the skirmishes.

Figures also varies as to the number reporting for work in the Ranson plant which normally employes 125. The union claimed only 20 reporting while the company said 60 were on the job.

The ILGWU last December 12 won a National Labor Relations Board election giving it the right to bargain collectively for employes of the Martinsburg and Ranson plants. No vote was taken at Keyser.

At the plant there, with about 100 employes, Mrs. Bernice Miller, manager, said that only eight workers were absent from their jobs and these all reported being sick.

Night Strike Vote

The strike was voted last night at a meeting in Union Hall after negotiations for a contract had broken down. Reasons for the breakdown were disputed by the company and the union. The latter stated that the company had refused to give piece-work consideration in the contract while the company said that it would not go along with union demands for a union shop.

Company officials said that they would continue to operate the plants indefinitely while union officials said that the strike likewise would continue.

Perfection is a manufacturer of women's dresses, most of which are sold through Florida Fashions.

The last local industrial strike was in 1941 when employes of the Interwoven Stocking Company went out.

Following is a statement of the union's position issued this morning by Steve Schlossberg, of Baltimore, Md., ILGWU representative:

"This strike, voted by an overwhelming majority of the workers, is caused entirely by the lack of any apparent desire to cooperate in reaching accord by Gene Goldfarb, John Poland, Jr., and William H. Atkinson, representing the Perfection Garment Company. The election was won by the union on December 12, 1952.

"We have tried hard to get a decent agreement with the company. The company has even refused to announce that they recognized and were negotiating with the union calling the govt. election 'illegal'.

"The union has waited four and one-half months for some kind of compromise acceptable to the workers, who have been most patient. We have endeavored to cooperate to the utmost, but are faced with an impossible situation. This strike is completely legal, under the Taft-Hartley Law, following a breakdown of negotiations, after the union won an NLRB election.

"The workers originally wanted to strike Tuesday, but delayed the strike until today pending final approval of a compromise agreement. The company reneged on this agreement, and terms previously agreed upon.

"For the information of the public, we wish to state our points of contention:

"The union requests a fair minimum wage, a decent yield for piece workers (incentive pay), paid holidays, which the company says are unheard of in Martinsburg and would cause resentment - even though we have discovered that the Paper Box Company gives five paid holidays. We demand decent sick benefits, retirement benefits, and raises for workers paid hourly wages. We also demand reasonable job security for our people.

"The union has made arrangements to protect and standby the workers, financially and legally.

"Today's strike had about 100 workers out in Ranson out of 120 and 310 workers at the Martinsburg out of approximately 385. This is a tremendous success, and the union feels that this wonderful turnout, coupled with the known reluctance of good union truck drivers to pass legitimate union picket lines insures complete success.

"I have never seen such tremendous spirit and morale as the union workers have shown. I am sure that their courage and solidarity, coupled with the justice of our cause, will bring complete victory."

Following is a statement of the company's position as made by John R. Poland, Jr., vice-president and general manager:

"The existing strike in the plants of the Perfection Garment Company at Martinsburg and Ranson, in Jefferson county, is, in my opinion, wholly unwarranted. For a great many weeks, we have been carrying on negotiations with representatives of the union, in an effort to work out an agreement respecting wages and other benefits, as well as working conditions. These negotiations, with the exception of the initial meeting, have been held either in Baltimore or in New York. The employes of our plant at Keyser are in no way involved in this strike. The employes at our Martinsburg plant and our Ranson plant decided, in an election which was held, to have the union represent them in connection with negotiations. Except for the initial meeting, which was held in Martinsburg not long after the election, these members of this bargaining committee have been totally ignored by the union representatives, so far as their being present and participating in any of the negotiations which have taken place with respect to wages or anything else. At the first meeting, the matter of wages or other conditions was not the subject of the discussion, except in a general way.

"As I have just stated, the negotiations with respect to wages and other conditions have been carried on with representatives of the international union, and not the local union, and have been held either in Baltimore or in New York. As the result of those negotiations, we had agreed upon certain benefits and increases in wages. Among these benefits was an increase of the minimum wage rate from 75 cents an hour to 80 cents an hour; an increase for all unskilled time workers of 5 cents an hour, and an increase for cutters, machinists and markers of 10 cents an hour; a provision of time and a half for overtime, based on an eight-hour day; a provision for a "check off" for union dues. We also had agreed to the payment of 1 1/2 percent of the gross payroll for a health and welfare fund for union members as well as non-union members.

"While we were still in these negotiations in New York on yesterday, Mr. Charles Kreindler, a vice- president of the union, broke off the negotiation bsecause [sic] of his demand for a union shop provision, that he insisted be written into the contract at the last moment, whereas, heretofore, it had been understood that the union would abandon the demand for a union shop.

"So, it can be truthfully said that the principal reason for this strike is the demand of the union for a union shop, which is a limited form of a closed shop. [W]e have refused to enter into any such agreement, because it operates, eventually, to force all employes to become members of the union, in order to have the privilege to work. It is our contention, and always has been, that no person should be required to pay dues or to make any other payment of any kind or character for the privilege of exercising his constitutional right to work. Employes have the right, under the labor law, to carry on strikes, if they are carried on in a lawful manner, and for a lawful pu[r]pose, but just as truly employes who do not want to strike have the sacred and inalienable right to work without being interfered with and coerced. All types of coercion and intimidation are being carried on to prevent large numbers of our employes from getting into the plant to work. Mass picketing, which in itself is unlawful, is being carried on, and even I have difficulty getting in and out of our plant in Martinsburg.

"We want our employes to know and we want the citizens of Martinsburg to know, that it is our plan and purpose to carry on our manufacturing business for the benefit of all our employes who want to work, and we feel certain we will have the protection of the officers of the city, county and state to enable us to carry this into effect, and if it becomes necessary, we will seek the aid of the courts to enable us to carry on our business without interruption and interference, and without our employes being intimidated and coerced in the exercise of their right to work."