Rolling Up Our Sleeves for American Apparel Workers

American Apparel

Just days after American Apparel factories were shuttered, hundreds of its former workers attend a seminar aimed at helping them secure new jobs, training, and other resources.

Efforts are underway to help about 3,000 American Apparel workers now facing unemployment after the company was sold in a bankruptcy auction.

Rapid response teams from the County’s Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services (WDACS), as well as the City’s Economic and Workforce Development Department (EWDD), have been deployed to guide former sewers, cutters, knitting supervisors and others in their search for new jobs and training, as well as applying for unemployment insurance and other benefits.

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An old American Apparel poster

With 80 percent of American Apparel’s workforce based at its corporate headquarters and main factory in downtown LA, within the County’s Second District, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas fought to prevent the mass layoffs from occurring in the first place. He petitioned the chief judge of the bankruptcy court to stipulate that the buyer “retain as many of the thousands of American Apparel workers as possible.” He added, “We simply cannot allow 3,000 family-supporting jobs to be eliminated.”

American Apparel, however, went on the auction block after years of financial turmoil that included two bankruptcy filings. Gildan Activewear Inc., a Canadian company, purchased what was once North America’s largest clothing manufacturer for $88 million in cash.

As soon as the pinks slips were handed out, a host of government agencies and community-based organizations came together to help.

“Regrettably, we still have situations where our local businesses experience difficulties in this economy,” said the County’s WDACS Assistant Director, Josephine Marquez. “In the advent of American Apparel’s decision to close their operations, the WDACS; Department of Public Social Services (DPSS); State Employment Development Department (EDD); the City of Los Angeles; the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) and a variety of other social service programs have come together to assist American Apparel during its transition, and to assist its employees with resources that hopefully stabilize their situations and move them to reemployment as quickly as possible.”

DPSS sent staff to determine the former employees’ eligibility for CalWORKs, CalFresh and General Relief benefits. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Division of Adult and Career Education, as well as the Los Angeles Community College District, offered a wide range of career and technical education programs along with basic and secondary education courses. English as a Second Language classes were made available as well, since American Apparel’s diverse workforce spoke 17 different languages.

The US Department of Labor, WorkSource California, America’s Job Centers of California, and dozens of community-based organizations also provided support. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Director of Workforce and Education policy, Lisa Salazar, noted, “Although this is a very distressing situation where we have thousands of workers who are now unemployed, today is a great example of how our collective systems from the City, County, state EDD, LAUSD and LA Trade Tech can bring services forward to these individuals who need them most.”

LAUSD Division of Adult and Career Education program and policy development coordinator, Laura Chardiet, expressed confidence that training and other services would help the former American Apparel workers move on to new careers. “This is what we do,” she said. “We specialize in working with people who have high barriers, and we’re also very good at accelerating their learning so people can get the training they need to get a job as soon as possible.”

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American Apparel’s now-closed corporate headquarters and main factory in downtown Los Angeles