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Fingerhut workers off to rally in Ohio

Union Local 978 wants the firm to be sold intact

Associated Press

ST. CLOUD -- About 50 Fingerhut employees boarded a bus Sunday night bound for Cincinnati to rally for the endangered company's survival.

Members of Union of Needletrades, Industrial &; Textile Employees Local 978 settled in for the trip to the headquarters of Federated Department Stores, Inc., Fingerhut's parent company. The group was expected to arrive back in St. Cloud on Tuesday morning.

Last month, Federated announced it would liquidate Fingerhut if no buyer was found. Fingerhut employs 4,700 people in Minnesota, including nearly 2,700 in St. Cloud, plus 1,300 in Tennessee.

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Glenn Liesch, an employee for almost 20 years, didn't go on the trip but braved the chilly temperatures at the rally to lend his support.

"People are concerned. I hope they keep the jobs in Minnesota," he said. "If not, it'll hurt the whole state."

Federated confirmed Friday that it's received one formal offer and that another potential buyer dropped out. The company didn't say who made the offer.

Peter Lytle, a Wayzata businessman with a history of turning around companies with financial problems, previously said he was among potential buyers looking at Fingerhut's books.

Tom Petters, a veteran retailer and chairman of Redtagbiz, Inc. in Eden Prairie, also said he was looking at Fingerhut's financials.

Federated confirmed Friday that an investment group led by Paul Ellarby of Minneapolis had lost interest in buying the company after reviewing Fingerhut's internal financial data.

Meanwhile, union workers planned to put more pressure on the company to sell Fingerhut intact.

"We want to keep the spotlight on Federated," said Jane Palmbach, UNITE leader. "This is for all (Fingerhut) employees."

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On Sunday night, at least 100 supporters gathered at the St. Cloud distribution center for the send-off.

"I think Federated needs to understand what they're doing to the community," said Mary Beth Grant, a Fingerhut employee for almost 17 years. "We're a profitable company and they're just flushing it. I hope Federated can see us as people instead of just numbers."

Palmbach said the group will meet with representatives from Federated and labor and activist groups. The group also will gather at one of Federated's stores in Cincinnati. Palmbach wouldn't reveal which store the group would visit.

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