Union organizers entered J. P. Stevens And Co. textile plants for the first time yesterday, under terms of a federal court order.
Union spokesmen said Stevens' management officials showed them "civility, not hostility," and that workers were unafraid to greet organizers openly.
Stevens, the country's second largest textile manufacturer, has been found guilty by the National Labor Relations Board of illegally firing at least 285 workers for union activity, and of numerous other unfair labor practices, in its 15-year struggle to repel organized labor from its 80-odd plants.
"They didn't seem to have any fear," said veteran organizer Louis Washington, who walked into Stevens' White Horse No. 1 Plant in Greenville, S.C., as part of a one-day "experiment" to see if the court order would be complied with.
"Four or five [workers] came right up to me, just hauled off and shook my hand and said, 'It's wonderful that you're here. Maybe we'll get somewhere now,'" he said.
The organizer said 14 workers asked for union buttons and put them on in sight of their supervisors and that one worker actually signed a union authorization card.
In past years concern about firings and other harassment had been so great during organizing campaigns at Stevens that workers did not want to be seen accepting union leaflets from organizers at plant gates.
One provision of the court order required the textile firm to post public notices in the plants that there would be no further company reprisals for union activity.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York found Stevens in contempt of court last August for continuing to flout the National Labor Relations Act.The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a company appeal of the appeals court ruling in January, setting the stage for the organizers' entrance into the plants yesterday.
Ordinarily union organizers have no legal right to bring their message to employes inside a factory. But as part of its "remedies" to compensate for the effects of past unfair labor practices by the company, the court ordered Stevens to allow organizers to speak to workers in "nonworking areas" of the plants on "nonwork time."
Nonworking areas include cafeterias and smoking areas.
In addition to the Greenville plants, organizers of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union went into Stevens' mills in Great Falls, S.C., and Wagrim and Aberdeen, N.C., for two-hour periods yesterday. Two organizers entered each plant.
Further visits are expected at these and other Stevens plants in the future.