LAWRENCE (CBS) – Aaron Feuerstein was the CEO with a soul, keeping his employees on the payroll even after a wind-fueled fire nearly destroyed the Malden Mills complex in Lawrence on December 11, 1995.
Now Polartec, which bought the business in 2007, has announced it's planning to leave the city and take some 300 jobs with it.
"I think Lawrence has been double-crossed," Feuerstein tells WBZ-TV. "I always considered the employees there as stakeholders of the business."
Decades old posters he still keeps in his home reflect on his now notorious generosity.
Moving production of the specialty fabric he created to a factory in Tennessee is a decision he takes personally.
"The workers are a pair of hands and you get the hands wherever you can get them. So I guess it's cheaper in Tennessee," said Feuerstein.
Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera says the city was blindsided by the announcement coming 20 years to the day after the devastating fire and the legacy of supporting workers.
"I don't want to throw the word greed around, but I think there's a balance there. They're making money and I'm not sure it's enough for everybody," Rivera said.
In a statement Polartec says the decision is due to "global marketing pressures, customer needs, and an overlarge facility in Lawrence."
But the mayor says the city made significant infrastructure improvements at the factory, and union workers have made numerous concessions in their contracts.
"We're going to fight hard to expose the truth with this company and keep as many jobs in Lawrence as possible," said Ethan Snow, chief of staff and political director for the New England Joint Board Unite Here union.
No timetable has been established for Polartec's departure, with the company saying it will happen within the next few years.
But from the ashes of Malden Mills, it was Feuerstein who fought for jobs. He now hopes the lesson will finally be learned.
"Another generation, 100 years hence, someone will win it. It was a good fight," he said.
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