LAWRENCE, MASS. — Six years ago, when fire burned Malden Mills to the ground just before the holidays, the company took the remarkable step of standing by its employees and paying them while it rebuilt.
Now that the company has filed for bankruptcy, workers are rallying to return that kindness. Many have pledged to stand by chief executive Aaron Feuerstein, who kept his employees on the payroll despite the fact that insurance only covered three-quarters of the $400 million tab to rebuild the company.
"I would never leave him at a time like this, for what he's done for me," said senior engineer David Anelundi, whose master's degree in science was paid for by Malden Mills after the fire.
Anelundi is one of nine-hundred union workers agreed last week to give up their paid personal days in 2002, which will save the company $500,000. A new three-year contract also freezes salaries until 2003.
"To be honest with you, I really don't know what I'd do. Malden Mills is where I want to be," says mill employee Peter Pendak.
Malden Mills, which employs 1,200 people in Lawrence and Hudson, N.H., was founded in 1906, and is renowned for its trademark Polartec fleece. But, earlier this week it fell under pressures from lenders and saw its debt downgraded.
On Tuesday, Malden Mills is expected to get final bankruptcy court approval for $20 million, which will fund salaries for another six months, when new orders are expected from clients, which include the military and LL. Bean. Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Martin Meehan, both Massachusetts Democrats, have also told workers that they'd fight in Congress to secure more Defense Department contracts for Malden Mills.
"Consumers send me beautiful, compassionate and interesting letters every day with checks in them," Feuerstein told cheering employees on Monday. "They want us to win."