In their first face-to-face meeting in nearly a month, union and management officials at London Fog Corp. met in Baltimore for three hours yesterday in an attempt to save some of the 700 jobs at three Maryland factories slated to be closed in October.
The atmosphere surrounding the negotiations has become considerably more upbeat since the removal two weeks ago of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Arnold P. Cohen, who first threatened to close the factories.
"The meeting that was held today was a good meeting," said Carmen S. Papale, the Baltimore regional manager of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. "It's a little bit better," he said.
He said there would be another meeting next week, but he declined to give any other details of yesterday's session or the issues being negotiated.
Company officials did not return a telephone call last night. However, earlier this week William Richins, executive vice president and chief financial officer, was optimistic.
"We're looking at this thing very positively at this point," he said on Tuesday.
Mr. Richins said he was hopeful because of the planned face-to-face meeting and the continuing contact between the union officials and Douglas Hillman, president of the company's trade division, and Edward Frey, the executive vice president of operations.
Mr. Hillman and Mr. Frey are veteran company negotiators with the clothing workers.
"And we're just continuing to keep it going, to hopefully come to some sort of terms," he said.
London Fog, the Darien, Conn.-based raincoat and outerwear company, announced at the end of July that it would shut down three plants that make London Fog brand raincoats in Baltimore, Hancock and Williamsport by the end of October. The Baltimore plant, in the Park Circle Business Park, has 300 workers alone.
The labor dispute, which dates back to March, initially involved the company's desire to move a portion of its production of less expensive Towne coats from overseas to the Maryland plants. But as a condition of the move, the company asked the union to drop an arbitration case involving import limits, which the union refused to do without a three-year work guarantee.
Mr. Cohen, the former head of the company, had made sweeping changes at London Fog, including moving the headquarters from Eldersburg to Darien, Conn. and the closing of three other factories with 575 workers.
He was replaced by the company's board on Aug. 23 with John Varvatos as chairman and James D. Milligan as chief executive officer.