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Front Page History: Union votes for pay cut to keep Palm Beach Co. open

On this day in 1980, the top headline of The Advocate-Messenger read: “Palm Beach workers vote on proposal for pay cut.”

On the previous afternoon, Danville Palm Beach employees had voted on the union proposal for workers to accept a 10 percent across the board wage cut in hopes that the plant would stay in business. Other votes were going to be conducted at the Somerset and Knoxville plants.

Top officials of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union presented the proposal to members during a meeting held at Bate Middle School gymnasium, next to the Palm Beach plant on Stanford Road.

“The proposals apparently are meant to demonstrate to the company that workers are willing to take a pay cut and make other sacrifices to keep their jobs,” and keep the plants open not only in Danville, but Somerset and Knoxville, Tennessee as well, according to the newspaper.

The proposals were also to reflect the union’s emphasis on equalization of labor and seniority, which were points that representatives had been pushing during negotiations with the company over the fate of the Danville and Knoxville plants. Those meetings were to resume the following week in New York City.

The meeting lasted an hour and a half, then union representatives quickly left and headed to Somerset for a meeting there.

After the Danville meeting, union members said Danville and Knoxville employees were asked to take a 10 percent pay cut, while workers in Somerset were asked to take a 5 percent cut.

They also said they were told that the pay cuts would last until October, when the current 40-month contract was set to expire.

According to the article many of the workers who talked to a reporter after the meeting had mixed feelings about the union’s proposals.

Some employees were angry at the union but predicted the vote would be in favor of the pay cut. “The union has sold us out,” said one woman who had worked at the plant for more than 15 years. “One union official lives in New York. What does he care about us here in Kentucky. He draws a big salary. What we make would be poverty in New York,” she said.

Other employees said they were willing to make the sacrifice to keep the plant open.

A few employees walked out of the meeting before the vote was taken.

One person said, “There were some heated arguments. We asked if they (officials) would reduce the union dues by the same 10 percent they want us to reduce our wages.”

On May 25, it was announced that the Palm Beach Company on Stanford Road, as well as the ones in Somerset and Knoxville would not close.

However, the company and officials of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union reached an agreement which called for production consolidation and overall reduction in employment among the personnel who had less than three years seniority.

Robert B. Ward, president of the Menswear Group, stated that speculation about a possible plant closing had ended.

Just three months later, Danville’s Palm Beach Plant manager Wiley Mowery announced that the company was thriving with new business, and the 72 junior employees who had been laid off in June as part of a union-company compromise to keep the plant open, had been offered their jobs back.

The sudden turn of events was due to an increase in production because the company had added the production of a women’s line of coats.