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The People vs. Willie Farah (1973)

Manuel Castaneda

Sound | 1973

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    In this television program, workers on strike from El Paso's Farah Manufacturing Company air their grievances with the unfair working conditions at Farah plants and their desire to become unionized, a fireable offense at Farah when the strike began in 1972. The workers were on strike for two years and organized a national boycott that forced Farah to permit union organizing; pleas for viewers to join the boycott can be seen at the end of this program. In January of 1974, the National Labor Relations Board ordered Farah to offer reinstatement to the strikers and to permit union organizing, which resulted in a union contract that gave workers pay increases, job security and seniority rights, and a grievance procedure. This was a major victory against the apparel company that, at the time, employed 14 percent of El Paso's citizens by a minority workforce that was almost all Hispanic and 85 percent female.

    Farah, Incorporated was founded in 1920 by Lebanese immigrants Mansour and Hana Farah. What began as a small shirt manufacturing operation in El Paso had expanded to a 65,000 square foot plant by 1939. Entering the war years, Farah began to manufacture army khaki combat pants, fatigues, jungle wear, and uniforms. In 1953, the family purchased a second plant in El Paso that stood at 116,000 square feet and prduced 2,000 pairs of pants daily. In 1964, William Farah, later known as "Papa Willie," seceded his father as president of the company. It was under his control in the 1970s that the company management experienced bitter conflict with its workers. By that time, the company was the 2nd largest employer in El Paso with 7,000 employees, and had grown to seven manufacturing plants, five of which were in El Paso. While the company had once been known as a patriotic company with on-site health care and cafeteria benefits for employees, the dramatic growth of the company changed the dynamic between management and workers as the need for increased production to meet higher quotas arose. The company never quite recovered from their losses in the 1970s, and Papa Willie was at the center of further conflicts with the company's board in the 1980s. While a Farah plant and distribution center is still in operation in El Paso today, it is a much smaller operation than at its peak in the early 70s.