The friends and foes of J. P. Stevens and Co. traded verbal jabs today at a testy annual meeting from which both fighting camps walked away claiming victory.
James D. Finley, chairman of the embattled textile company, citing a continued rise in sales and profits, declared the two-year-old boycott by labor and associated groups to have failed and called on them to "stop annoying and wasting the time of so many disinterested people."
But officials of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, who for 19 years have pursued J. p. s/tevens as a prime target and a linchpin to organizing the South, insisted in a press conference afterward their pressure tactics have been effective in swaying public sentiment against the company. The union also announced it would broaden its selective campaign against the company's directors -- an effort that already has prompted two directors to resign and moved Finley to quit two outside directorships.
Ray rogers, head of the union's corporate campaign, indicated the next target would be Sydney J. Weinberg, a Stevens director and a partner in the New York investment firm Goldman, Sachs & Co., and he hinted at other plans still under discussion designed to pressure several of Stevens' major shareholders, the largest of which he said is Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. of New York.
Today's meeting marked the second year Stevens, which has headquarters in New York City, picked this placid southern community as the site for its shareholders meeting. The meeting was moved here last year in the wake of extensie publicity generated at previous meetings by protesters. It was the first time in the company's 165-year history its shareholders met outside the Northeast.
The picketers and the media have dogged the company South. In fact, the past three days have taken on somewhat of a carnival atmosphere here with both pro-union and anti-union foreces staging rallies around town.
But there was no major demonstration by either camp outside the cavernous Textile Hall today when about 900 shareholders met under nonetheless tight security.
Inside, tales of corporate oppression told by union organizers and disgruntled employes alternated with expressions of corporate allegiance voiced by other workers loyal to Stevens, the country's second largest textile manufacturer. Most notable among the antiunion forces is a group called Stevens People and Friends For Freedom, the leader of which, Mildred Ramsey, works at a Stevens plant in Greenville.
Finley, generally imperturbable, defended recent efforts by his company to improve health and safety conditions, hire more women and minority applicants and pay higher wages to the more than 43,000 employes in Stevens' 81 plants. Finley cited these statistics:
On average, Stevens pays 5.2 percent above the average for the textile industry and has granted pay increases averaging 7 percent in each of the past 12 years.
The company's total work force is now 24 percnet minority and 42 percent female. Minority employment was up 34 percnet last year; the number of women employed inereased by 11 percent.
Since 1972, the company has spent $28 million in cotton dust control systems to guard against brown lung and other related diseases. On display in the meeting hall here today were pictures of air cleaning systems recently installed at some Stevens plants.
Critics challenged Finley on all this claims. They cited instances of continued discrimination, of continued unhealthy and unsafe work places, and of continued management abuses. Several religious and civil rights spokesmen sympathetic to the union cause also scored the company for the numerous times it has been castigated by federal agencies and courts for violating the law. "There continues to be a... flagrant violation of rights of J.P. Stevens employes," said W. W. Finlator, a pastor from Raleigh. N.C.
Dissident shareholders proposed four resolutions asking for the establishment of management oversight policies and practices. All were soundly defeated by the shareholders. No resolution won more than 7 percent of the 9.4 million shares of common stock voting.
All 13 directors on the company slate were elected to the board, including one black and one owman named last year to succeed two directors who resigned. Shareholders also approved authorization for 10 million shares of preferred stock. The company recorded sales in 1978 of $1.7 billion, up 7 percent over 1977, and net income of $36.4 million, up 3 percent. For the first quarter of 1979, sales were $434.6 million, up 24 percnet over a year ago, and net income totaled $9.7 million, up 36 percent.
Under questioning. Finley disclosed that only 60 percent of Stevens' sales increase in 1978 was due to additional volume. The rest, he said, was due to price changes. He also conceded that the company prices some products below cost in order to spur sales.