Federated reconsiders additional Fingerhut books

(Direct Newsline) Federated Department Stores told a union delegation on Monday that it would begin publishing Fingerhut catalogs again if a viable buyer is found. The last catalog was mailed in late January.

“This is the first time they said they would be willing to publish catalogs again,” says Noel Beasley, international vice president of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, which represents 1,500 Fingerhut employees.

One buyer has put forward a bid for the catalog, Federated confirmed last Friday. Others are reportedly poised to make counter offers.

The delegation met with Federated officials on Monday during a demonstration outside of Federated’s Cincinnati headquarters. The rally, attended by as many as 200 Fingerhut employees and local UNITE supporters according to press reports, was organized to urge Federated to find a buyer for catalog.

Also to come out of the meeting was an assurance by Federated that scripts at Fingerhut call centers would be examined and “that if the union has a critique of the script, we should communicate that to them,” Beasley says.

“In the early days [after the Jan. 16 notice that Fingerhut would be shuttered] the call center personnel were scripted to say that the company was going out of business,” Beasley says. “You can imagine the impact this had on current and potential customers. We are concerned that the call center script be a positive message. We would hope that by issuing catalogs and maintaining the business that even in the transition period, we could expand the customer base.”

Meanwhile, a letter signed by Federated vice chairman Ronald Tysoe was handed out at the protest. While expressing appreciation for employees’ hard work, the letter said, “We do not believe that it is likely that we will find [a] buyer.” Fingerhut employees in Minnesota and Tennessee also received the letter, confirms Fingerhut spokesperson Ben Saukko.

“It has been claimed by some that Federated’s actions in sending out WARN notices and discontinuing the mailing of new catalogs reflect Federated’s intent not to sell Fingerhut….Nothing has been done to date that would have a significant negative impact on the business should a sale materialize,” the letter continued.

An attachment entitled: “What you should know…” stated that “Federated worked tirelessly to operate Fingerhut profitably…”

The union disagrees. “They’ve only done that since UNITE has put pressure on them to find a buyer,” Beasley says. “Prior to Jan. 16, they did everything they did to set the stage for liquidation.”

UNITE’s concerns center on the idea that the strength of the catalog not be diluted while a buyer is found, Beasley says. UNITE’s demands include that shipments resume; layoff notices sent to 70% of Fingerhut’s employees be rescinded; and, the company be prevented from continuing to tighten the credit of customers.

Carol Sanger, spokesperson for Federated, did not return calls by press time.

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