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Burlington work headed for Asia

By By Steve Swogetinsky/regional editor
Jan. 11, 2002
STONEWALL   A long ride was followed by a long day Thursday for the management team of the Burlington Industries plant here as they met with 850 employees to tell them the plant would be shutting down by the end of March.
Though word had filtered out by the time they arrived back in town, officials held meetings on Thursday with employees in all of the plant's departments.
Changing world
Though the Stonewall plant has always performed well, the corporation known as Burlington Industries has struggled in recent years. Many of its plants have closed and the company took Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in November 2001.
A weak economy and a change in buying trends also hurt, Carter said.
Some people already are blaming the North American Free Trade Agreement for the losses, but Carter said that wasn't the case. Work from the Stonewall plant is not going to another plant in Mexico.
Instead, it is going to be "sourced out" to companies operating in Southeast Asia where the cost of labor is much cheaper.
Even while its corporate parent was downsizing, the Stonewall plant remained a shining light, plant officials said.
For years, Stonewall specialized in making a top-of-the-line style of denim. Then, as other plants closed, the Stonewall plant picked up many other styles.
This is where the experience of the workforce paid off. The Stonewall mill has been in operation since the 1860s, and many veteran employees grew up learning of work done by previous generations.
Their task was not easy. They quickly learned that not all denim styles are made the same. Some processes take longer than others, and for a while the plant ran "out of balance."
But not for long. By the end of 2000, plant management reported they were "in balance and on schedule."
At the start of 2001, management told employees it was critical that the plant run at peak efficiency, and Carter said they met that challenge, too.
Carter said he and Smith were in the same boat with the rest of the employees. When the plant closes, they don't know where they will be working, either.
Pickering reacts
U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., expressed concern for the employees and promised to do all he could to find buyer for the plant.
Pickering added that should all efforts fail, the next step would be to make the employees aware of the many opportunities that are available through the federal government. Because these jobs are going overseas, they likely will qualify for many benefits and re-training opportunities.
The state will also be working to help the employees, Smith said.
Hard times
Because Burlington Industries is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, its creditors have a say in how it spends its money, and this will affect the severance packages of the employees when the plant closes.
Carter said the company wanted to offer a full severance package (based on length of service) but the creditors balked. The creditors have agreed to allow a package which would be half the original value, and a bankruptcy judge will consider this motion next week.
Smith pointed out that this issue did not involve retirement benefits or profit sharing claims. "They (the employees) will still get this," he said.
Another issue is the story that some of Burlington's top executives have received large salary increases while rank-and-file employees were losing their jobs. Carter said this was true and explained why this was done.