CLEVELAND - In an emotional reunion, workers at Hugo Boss, together with dozens of union activists, thanked embattled Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland for his role in saving hundreds of jobs at the upscale men's suit plant in suburban Brooklyn.
"These are severe economic times and the workers were told they would be on the street without jobs," Joe Costigan, Secretary Treasurer of the Midwest Region of Workers United told the crowd at the headquarters of the North Shore (Cleveland) AFL-CIO.
"Many pronounced the cause hopeless, but fortunately we had the support of this community and we had the support of Gov. Strickland," Costigan said. "He never wavered. He stood with us. He was unafraid to lead."
Costigan then introduced five of the plant's workers.
"Many others couldn't be here because they are working eight hours."
The workers - David Correa, Thu Thuy Nguyen, Lydia Perez, Wanda Navarro and Sheila McVey - were leaders of the fight, which ended in April when the company dropped plans to move to Turkey and signed a new three-year contract.
"I can't tell you how much this has meant for me and my family," said Navarro, who was recently elected local union president. "It was a blessing to have Gov. Strickland there. He visited the plant and spoke at our rally. We felt more confident. It was the best thing that could happen."
At Strickland's request the Ohio Public Employees Retirement Fund, with large investments in Permira Advisors, the majority owner of Hugo Boss, sent a letter to the equity firm protesting the planned shut down. Retirement funds in several other states followed suit.
"Without Ted Strickland, I wouldn't have my job today," said Sheila McVey.
Strickland called the workers "the salt of the earth. You deserve to be respected and honored. You are the best of Ohio," he said. "You are the real heroes of this fight. You sent a message across Ohio and across America. You used every tool to convince Hugo Boss that leaving Ohio was not in their best interest."
Locked in a tough battle for re-election, Strickland said voters face a "stark choice between Ohio values and values consistent with Wall Street."
His opponent, former Congressman John Kasich, was a director of Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street bank, whose collapse in 2008 was a major factor in the national financial meltdown.
"When he was in Congress, he worked to outsource jobs and to eliminate Trade Adjustment Act assistance to laid off workers," Strickland said.
"When he worked on Wall Street," the incumbent continued, "he pitched Ohio pension funds to invest in Lehman Brothers. They lost $480 million, but Kasich got a $400,000 bonus the same year."
Strickland spoke of the progress in Ohio's economic recovery since the crash and the sharp improvement in the standing of the state's schools.
"We must not hand Ohio over to someone who embraces Wall Street values," said Strickland, whose father was a steelworker. "We are part of the same family. You are the salt of the earth. You represent the best in our state and country. We must fight 'til the polls close on Nov. 2 to protect Ohio from Wall Street thinking and behavior."
Previously trailing in polls, Strickland has closed the gap due to a massive grassroots effort by labor, the Democratic Party and allied groups. Virtually every poll now shows the race to be a dead heat.
Photo: Rick Nagin/PW