Fingerhut Follies

THERE MIGHT HAVE been another way to get a meeting with the boss, but this round worked: Members of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees walked into Fingerhut's annual meeting last Wednesday to demand that management talk to them. The union has two complaints pending against the catalog giant with the National Labor Relations Board, one filed by workers in Tennessee and one in Minnesota. Both revolve around what's officially called "refusal to bargain," which can include such things as not providing requested information. What's more, 350 UNITE members have been laid off from Fingerhut's St. Cloud warehouse since January; many of them have less than two years' seniority with the company, and are slated to see their recall rights expire at the end of this month.

Union representatives say that though layoffs are expected after the holiday rush, this one has lasted longer and affected more people than usual. There's an added bit of irony in the fact that the union went to bat for Fingerhut a couple of years ago, when the company sought and got tax-increment subsidies worth close to $5 million for a warehouse expansion in St. Cloud. In return, Fingerhut promised to create 400 jobs; only 153 of them have so far materialized.

At the shareholders' meeting, union reps pretty much got what they wanted: Senior management sat down with them and promised to resume negotiations over the Tennessee complaint. But the bigger question--how to do business with a company that, in a world of global shopping, is no longer tied to place--remains: Just last month, Fingerhut announced that it was moving some 350 jobs from Plymouth and Minneapolis to Tampa, Florida. The workers, mostly telemarketers, aren't unionized.

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