Fourteen-year veteran Janet Miller and union president Essie Carter 10 JUNE 12, 1987 Enterprises cannot be overstated; without its commitment, expertise and money, there simply would not be a Colt Enterprises. It’s a role based partly on desperation. Due to the competition from apparel and textile imports and to the flight of American capital abroad, ACTWU has been devastated in this decade by plant closings and layoffs. From 1980 to 1986 some 250,000 textile and apparel workers lost their jobs. “What it says about ACTWU is that we are beginning to take a really serious look at both our responsibility and our opportunity to preserve jobs, and, obviously, members,” says Joan Suarez, ACTWU’s district manager. “We need to continue to take a look at the whole issue of job security and to think about that in perhaps a much broader sense than we’ve looked at it for the last 20 or 30 years.” THE ROOTS OF worker-ownership in Texas are long but fragile. By and large \(with some developed the structural or ideological cement necessary to hold themselves together for the long run. The most wellknown examples of early cooperative enterprise were the utopian community of La Reunion in Dallas, established in 1855, and the 1847 Mormon settlement near Fredericksburg called Zodiac. The other major strain of democratic business in Texas are agricultural co-ops, which flourished around the turn of the century and which once again are beginning to sprout in Texas. Most worker-owned businesses today are structured as Employee Stock Own ership Plans, or ESOPs. But few are worker-controlled: most ESOPs vest decision-making authority in third-party trusts and give little or no voice to employees. Most corporations have used ESOPs mainly as a gimmick to raise investment capital at cheaper rates through a series of tax breaks first passed by Congress in 1974 than they would pay at a bank. In contrast, each of the 120 employees of Colt Enterprises not only owns his or her own job, but also owns an equitable share of company authority and responsibility. Each of the worker-owners owns one share of stock, valued at $1,000. The share entitles the employee to vote for the seven-member board of directors, which, in turn, hires management, makes policy, sets wages and dispenses profits. The board includes three worker-owners, three community representatives, and a union representative. There are currently about 8,000 ESOPs covering 11 million workers, according to the National Center for Employee Ownership, a private consulting firm that has worked with Colt. Among the most recognized have been Rath Packing Co. in Iowa, Weirton Steel in West Virginia, and Hyatt Clark Industries in New Jersey, established in 1981 as one of the most democratic ESOPs and now in bankruptcy proceedings. In Tyler, the final blow for the Levi Strauss workers came last June 23, when the company dispatched officials from its San Francisco headquarters to announce the 15-year-old plant would be closed on Sept. 19, 1986. The plant was one of six Levi closed last year and one of 13 shut down since 1984. Today Levi Strauss runs 76 plants worldwide, down from a peak of 131 facilities in 1981. “At first, I was shocked, I was hurt, I was angry,” Mary Watson told the Observer a month after the announcement. Watson had worked 13 years for Levi as a sewing machine operator. “But then we came up with the buyout idea. Levi did what it had to do and we’re doing what we have to do.” The first thing union leaders had to do was raise money for a feasibility study. With help from Joan Suarez, a union leader with an uncommon combination of verve, intellect and optimism, leaders of Local 1071-C organized a fund-raising committee of 200 workers they called “Hands Around Our Jobs.” Each member of the committee pledged $50. With $10,000 in commitments, the union sought a matching grant from Levi Strauss. The company complied, but at an employee meeting in July a Levi vice president stressed that the check did not mean Levi endorsed the buy-out plan. “A lot of people heard the statement because it was a public announcement in the cafeteria,” says Essie Carter. “He told us, ‘we’re giving you $10,000 just because y’all asked, but it ain’t gonna work.’ So that made some people back off.” By the time the workers went public with their idea the skeptics had long since been silenced. “Once we got started,” Carter says, “we had all kinds of help form the community. They looked at us as a group of people who wanted to do something for ourselves.” At the union’s kick-off rally on July 10, a host of public officials the mayor, a county commissioner, state Rep. David Hudson all pledged their support. After that, Carter says, “We had radio stations raising money for us, hospitals, everyone helped us pull together the finances.” All told, Hands Around Our Jobs raised $50,000 for the study $10,000 in employee contributions and community donations, $10,000 from Levi Strauss, $5,000 from Gov. Mark White’s Office of Economic Development, and a $25,000 matching grant from the National Cooperative Bank. The group hired Kurt Salmon Associates, a Dallas-based textile consulting firm, to conduct the feasibility study. 0 “The answer says we are on go,” ca Joan Suarez told more than 100 cheering Oprospective worker-owners in October. “This can be a successful venture.” The Ostudy determined Levi’s jean production 2 costs, how the jeans could be made 11 cheaper, and what work contracts were available. It also assessed Levi’s man
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