Levi Closes Its Last Two Sewing Plants in U.S.

From Times Wire Reports

Levi Strauss & Co., the California Gold Rush outfitter whose trademark bluejeans have been an American clothing staple for generations, closed its last two sewing plants in the United States on Thursday.

The financially troubled company, which is based in San Francisco, has been steadily shifting production to overseas contractors for several years to cut costs and invigorate drooping sales in the ultra-competitive apparel market.

About 800 workers at the 26-year-old San Antonio plants have lost their jobs in the move, which was announced in September.

Sewing in San Antonio finished up around Thanksgiving, and last month the company ceased the laundering work done to give jeans their various finishes. More than 4 million pairs of jeans once were made here each year by workers earning, on average, $10 to $12 an hour.

A third plant in San Antonio was closed without notice in 1990, affecting Viola Casares and about 1,100 other workers -- many of them Mexican American women with limited job skills.

"For me right now, I feel like I'm in mourning," said Casares, who co-founded a group that used boycotts and picketing to protest the 1990 closure. "We used to be like a family. It's hard to believe that it's final."

This spring, Levi Strauss will complete the shift to contract production by shuttering its three remaining company-owned plants in Canada.

Privately held Levi Strauss has weathered seven straight years of declining sales after its revenue peak of $7.1 billion in 1996. In 2002, the company reported sales of $4.1 billion, and the company said the yet-to-be-released number for 2003 would be 2% to 3% lower than that.

"We're still an American brand, but we're also a brand and a company whose products have been adopted by consumers around the world," spokesman Jeff Beckman said. "We have to operate as a global company."

Separately, Levi Strauss said a lawsuit accusing it of sweatshop worker abuses on the U.S. territorial island of Saipan was dismissed at the plaintiffs' behest, nine months after more than two dozen other firms settled similar claims against them.

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