7/19/07

Solidarity rally for PA strikers

More than 140 garment workers at Tama Manufacturing, who have been on strike for more than a month to demand better wages and benefits, were congratulated and encouraged today by their union peers for their stamina and display of unity. About 200 people, including union officials representing firefighters, postal workers and steelworkers, attended a rally at Coplay Parkway to energize the workers who have been walking a picket line outside the Hanover Township, Lehigh County plant through heat and thunderstorms. Several workers said they are proud of the union solidarity they have displayed, but the prolonged strike is taking a financial toll.

"It's driving me nuts," said Kathy Eisenhard, of Northampton, who has worked at Tama for 19 years as a trimmer. "Money. Not getting a paycheck every week."

Northampton resident Audrey Bancroft, a pocket-setter who has worked at Tama for 22 years, said workers have bonded on the picket line.

"Everybody's spirits are up," she said. "But some of the girls are talking about how much their money will last."

The strike underscores difficulties in the area's dwindling textile sector, which has been decimated as more clothes purchased in America are made in other countries with cheaper labor.

The workers said they have taken pay cuts and made other concessions over the past several years to help Tama get through tough times. Now that the company has a $21.9 million contract to make uniforms for the Department of Defense, the company has to share with its workers, they said.

The privately held, family-owned company has been in business since the 1940s. It makes women's slacks and skirts, including items sold under the Alfred Dunner label, at its Race Street plant.

The average employee makes about $18,000 a year, according to the Unite Here union. The company has offered 2 percent raises in each of the next three years, union members said. But workers said they would lose ground because they'd be required to pay $170 a month for medical benefits that are now entirely paid by their employer. So the average worker would get an extra $360 pay in the first year, but shell out more than $2,000 a year in health insurance premiums, workers said.

(mcall.com)

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