Former Levi Strauss Workers Protest Texas Plant Closing

Article excerpt

SEVERAL hundred laid off Levi Strauss workers will start a hunger strike today to demand greater compensation for losing their jobs due to a plant closure.

In 1990 Levi Strauss & Co. shut its San Antonio plant employing more than 1,100 workers and shifted jeans production to Costa Rica. The planned five-day hunger strike in San Antonio and San Francisco by an estimated 200 workers highlights growing efforts to slow the export of garment jobs overseas.

"We lost our good-paying jobs in Texas, and they are only paying those women in Costa Rica a few dollars a day," says Irene Reyna, a leader of the former Levi's workers.

David Samson, spokesman for Levi Strauss, says the company gave the laid-off workers wages and benefits well beyond what was legally required. He adds that Levi's continues to employ 23,000 workers inside the United States at a time when other garment manufacturers have moved all production overseas.

Richard Rothstein, a researcher with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, says the US garment industry has lost more than 300,000 jobs since 1978, in part due to companies moving production overseas. This occurs mostly because of lower wages, he says. The garment contractor in Costa Rica making Levi's jeans pays its workers $1.08 an hour.

The Levi's controversy began in January 1990 when the company closed the San Antonio plant, which annually produced $70 million worth of Dockers and Officers Corp jeans.

Although not in a trade union, the production workers in that plant - mainly Latino women - earned good wages for the region, says Ms. Reyna. "I was making $9.10 an hour as a sewing machine operator."

THE shutdown badly hurt the workers and the local economy, says Reyna. The workers formed Fuerza Unida (United Force), and several hundred laid-off workers began coming to weekly meetings. Through rallies, picket lines, and demonstrations they eventually got Levi's and the state to pay for job retraining and education, she says. …