The message, which Workers United hopes MLB and Under Armour hear loud and clear: Keep making the on-field uniforms and fanwear at the unionized plant in Palmer.
“We will do everything in our power to make sure that the baseball uniforms continue to be made by Workers United members right here in Pennsylvania,” Workers United President Lynne Fox said. “How can the uniforms for America’s favorite pastime be made anywhere but in America by dedicated union members?”
The future of the Palmer plant, which employs about 600, became murky after MLB in December ended almost two months of speculation and officially announced Under Armour as its new uniform provider starting in 2020. VF Majestic is the current uniform and fanwear provider for the MLB, but those licenses expire Dec. 31, 2019.
So Thursday afternoon at a “Buy North American, Buy Union” rally and news conference at the Workers United National Convention in Philadelphia, Fox was joined by VF Majestic union members, whom she characterized as the “real face of North American manufacturing.” Many of the workers held signs, from one reading, “MLB, step up to the plate,” to another that said, “Under Armour — don’t strike out.”
Two workers also spoke at the rally, which was live-streamed on Facebook. One of those workers was Sam Patti, a 15-year VF Majestic employee and union member.
Patti, who works on the manufacturing side at VF Majestic, described the concern he and his co-workers experienced when they learned the company would lose the MLB contract after the 2019 season.
“We had a membership meeting and formed a committee to begin addressing how to deal with, um, our new employers,” he said, pausing briefly. “We hope to have new employers.”
Despite the union’s energetic rally Thursday, there has been no movement or news from MLB, Under Armour or VF Corp. regarding the plant since December.
Speaking on CNBC on Dec. 7, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the league is hard at work trying to save the jobs of the Palmer employees.
According to a transcript sent out by CNBC, Manfred said, “It is a factory that we have great interest in, in terms of continuing to do business there, and hopefully we can make an arrangement that will make that possible.”
Matt Bourne, the MLB’s vice president of business public relations, said Thursday the league’s position remains unchanged from Manfred’s comments.
Representatives from Under Armour, meanwhile, did not respond to emails and calls sent Thursday.
In addition, VF spokesman Craig Hodges said Thursday the company had nothing new to announce beyond what it said in a Dec. 5 news release, when VF announced it was in “ongoing, productive talks” with MLB to ensure the Palmer plant continued to produce the on-field uniforms for a “very long time.”
But VF has been trying to unload the division that includes Majestic, announcing a year ago that it was exploring “strategic alternatives” for its Licensed Sports Group business. And during the fourth quarter of 2016, MLB informed VF that it would not be renewing its contract with the Majestic brand when it expires at the end of 2019, according to VF’s annual report.
Despite VF’s plans to unload its Licensed Sports Group business, the division actually had a record year in 2016 “thanks to the Cubs snapping their 108-year World Series drought,” VF CEO Steven Rendle said on a fourth-quarter earnings conference call with analysts. Hodges confirmed the Majestic brand had a “meaningful contribution” to the increase.
Even after a good year, VF Majestic workers in Palmer don’t know if they’ll have a job when the 2019 MLB season comes to an end. Fox added that Workers United has sent letters to MLB and Under Armour but has not received a response.
“We are sending a message to Major League Baseball to insist that our members continue to make the uniforms when Under Armour takes over the license,” Fox said.
Or, as Patti said it, “By the way Under Armour, we’re cool with you. Let’s do this.”
But for now, it remains unclear whether Under Armour, which has used the motto, “Protect This House,” in past commercials, will protect the jobs of VF Majestic employees in Palmer.