The 1,000 employes of Bates Fabrics, Inc., will receive a first-hand report tomorrow from their offices on how well their business performed last year.
The 1,000 are the owners of the sprawing 125-year-old textile mill. They purchased the concern last year from Bates Manufacturing Co. with the help of an $8 million loan from the First National Bank of Boston, 90 percent of which was guaranteed by the Farmers Home Administration.
Bates Fabrics, according to company officials, is one of the nation's largest employe stock ownership trusts.
Last week the first distribution of 35,000 shares of stock was made. The average worker at the mill was credited with 40 shares of stock valued at 80 cents a share. The shares were placed in separate accounts set up for each worker, who is to receive the proceeds when he reaches age 65.The distribution of shares was based on each worker's 1977 annual salary.
As the bank loan is repaid, a portion of the 4 million shares of outstanding stock held by the bank as collateral for the loan will be released and credited to the employes.
Robert T. Hickok, Bate's president and board chairman, said that when the 25-year loan is repaid the mill will be fully owned by the employes.
Raymond St. Pierre, Bates' treasurer, in an abbreviated report to the mill workers said 1977 sales fell slightly to $23.3 million from $24.2 million in 1976. Earnings amounted to $20,000 compared with $68,000 in the previous year. But $906,000 of the $8 million debt was amortized.
Hickok said the net profits figure doesn't tell the real story of how well the company did last year.
In addition to amortizing the loan by $906,000, the company paid $322,000 in interest and had a $650,000 adjustment credit on cotton purchases for a total of more than $1.8 million in gross profits.
"I'd say we had a banner year," said Hickok.
The change is ownership has had little impact on the lives of the mill workers, most of whom are of French-Canadian extraction, descendants of immigrants from Quebec who poured into Maine at the end of the 19th century to work in the expanding textile and pulp mills.
Denis Blais, vice president of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union of America, the union which represents the mill hands, doesn't see employes ownership as a financial blessing for the workers, although the union supported it.
"I see it as a better chance for the plant to survive because the vultures are gone," he said. "The previous owners of Bates viewed the mill simply as a source of quick profits. Much needed capital improvements were left undone."
The new management plans to build the working capital and purchase new equipment to enable Bates to remain competitive with southern mills. Last year $600,000 worth of new equipment was installed in the plant. Hickok said. This year as much or more money will be spent on modernization, he added.
The Bates' name has become synonymous with bedspreads, which constitute 85 percent of the mill's production. The remainder is drapes, and table cloths. The top of the line is sold under the Bates name, and goods of lesser quality are sold unbranded to chain and discount stores.
The test of labor-management relations came last month during negotiations for a new union contract.