Raleigh Stores Corp. and Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers yesterday announced settlement of the bitter 27-day-old strike that has crippled the area's largest independent clothing chain.
The end of the strike, which will permit all Raleigh's employes to retain their jobs and seniority, comes on terms that both sides praised. The three-year pact also was approved as the company began a major Memorial Day sale.
"This contract was unique in that it resulted in corrections of past inequities to management as well as financial gains to employes," said Sidney Lansburgh, Raleigh's president.
"Of course, our employes benefitted from wage adjustments -- as is the case in most, if not all, contract renewals," Lansburgh said in a statement. "And we gained a long-sought revision in the rules affecting Sunday hours. We hope the strike is over in everyone's heart and mind -- ours, our employes' and our customers'."
Thomas McNutt, president of Local 400, called the settlement "a great accomplishment for employes in the retail trade" and said "it was achieved because the overwhelming majority of our members stood firm despite efforts to break the strike."
McNutt and several union members praised Raleigh's customers, who by all accounts largely honored the union's picket lines. "We're grateful to them and hope they all come back," McNutt said.
The strike, which began on April 25, centered on wages, vacations and Sunday duty issues, but intensified recently when the store threatened not to allow some employes to return to their jobs after an agreement was signed.
The company ultimately was forced to revise that stand after consulting with labor attorneys who suggested that seldom, if ever, do unions settle strikes without reinstatement of workers.
But the company has hired 45 salespeople, threatening in a May 4 letter to employes to hire "large numbers of additional replacements" unless the strike ended by today.
In addition to the reinstatement provision, the contract calls for increasing commissions one-eighth percentage point this year and another one-eighth percentage point in the third and final year of the contract.
Further, the company agreed to a $12 minimum increase in weekly pay, with all hourly employes assured of at least an 8 percent pay hike.
The provision on Sunday hours will set up a rotation schedule for Sunday work, rather than basing it on seniority at the Raleigh's stores which are open that day.
The contract also will grant employes a fifth week of vacation after 25 years with the company. An earlier company offer gave the fifth week of vacation time after 27 years of employment.
After the old contract expired at the end of March, frequent negotiations failed to resolve the issues when talks broke off, and the strike began last month.
Although several dozen union members returned to their jobs during the strike, pickets surrounded Raleigh's stores throughout the stike, and many of the stores appeared nearly deserted.
Both sides filed a series of allegations about misconduct with the National Labor Relations Board during the strike, but it is customary to drop such charges upon settlement, officials said.
The union had accused the company of union-busting, while the company retaliated by suggesting the union was using the strike to demonstrate growing Local 400 power in the metropolitan area. Further, Raleigh's charged the union with intimidating customers and employes who had crossed the picket lines.
Federal mediation efforts had failed to resolve the issues in the strike. Only the personal efforts by Lansburgh, and national and local union representatives brought the strike to a close after lengthy meetings this week. r
Nearly 200 employes were presented with the contract at a union meeting in Suitland yesterday, with 10 members voting to reject the store's offer.
The strike was the longest "multi-unit" strike in the union's history, McNutt said, noting that both Local 400 and the store's management have agreed to "work toward achieving a model contractual relationship."