October 22, 2002
7:38 AM   Subscribe

Despite efforts to save it, the last major U.S. shirt manufacturing plant has closed. The Hathaway factory had been around since 1853 and had once produced shirts for the Union Army in the Civil War. Most of the 235 women let go had spent more than a decade working there. Cutting fabric and stitching garments was their marketable skill. Retraining isn't an option because these workers will have to find immediate employment. And if this hard reality isn't enough, to be eligible for severance pay, each worker must sign an nondisparagement agreement and promise not to hold Hathaway responsible for liabilities or damages. Why does free trade have to work this way?
posted by ed (47 comments total)
Makes one wonder why the airline industry gets a billion dollar bailout, while this plant is now forever gone.
posted by four panels at 7:40 AM on October 22, 2002

Because the airline industry is vital to the US economy but shirts can be made elsewhere much cheaper.
posted by bondcliff at 7:49 AM on October 22, 2002

None of these workers saw this coming, and none of them took steps (higher education, technical training) to improve their lot? What were they? Union?
posted by mischief at 7:50 AM on October 22, 2002

Union or not? if not, that is why they signed! don't mourn for me boys, organize (Joe Hill)

much mill work done in Maine. Then many companies moved South for non-union cheap labor. Then they moved out of the country....so it goes....
posted by Postroad at 7:51 AM on October 22, 2002

Oh, they've organized. Local 486 of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees represents the Hathaway workers. And for those without a functional understanding of the working world who are content to bemoan the "lack of foresight," one can just as easily ask Hathaway why they didn't establish a transfer program that would allow these women to obtain new job skills. These women put in substantial years of their lives with Hathaway and the company rewarded them with a sudden closing with little notice. There was a time in America when the time you put in meant something. Now it's about taking as much time from the worker as you can, with little guarantee that the job will be there tomorrow. Unless of course you're a CEO.
posted by ed at 8:04 AM on October 22, 2002

Free trade will work this way until someone figures out the mystery of pulling up the social and economic capital of a second or third world country internally. Until then, highly disparate wages are inevitable, and so will plant movements be.

Think about it.... isn't it weird that the cheapest way to get something is to have it manufactured and shipped halfway around the world?

On another note, doesn't this sort of thing make anyone nervous? If a natural disaster or international conflict were to disrupt shipping, this kind of thing would make goods manufactured and supplied in this way very scarce in the U.S.
posted by namespan at 8:25 AM on October 22, 2002

Because the airline industry is vital to the US economy but shirts can be made elsewhere much cheaper.

Translated: because "Free Trade" doesn't have third-world countries running airlines that abuse and in many cases enslave women and children to tender cheaper products for Americans who could give a damn about where their products come from as long as they're cheap.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:28 AM on October 22, 2002

Well, these days we have unenployment insurance just for this instance. Did you forget?

I sure can't, they keep sending me those checks :P

Seriously though, its not like these women are going to be out on the street. They'll get 2/3rd their salary for 6 months while doing nothing from the gub'mint.


Anyway, I don't see why you're all so sad. Chances are, those women will be able to find better jobs somewhere. There is a lot of work for semstresses in the fasion industry, making pre-production clothes for designers, etc.

And, in the meantime, you'll be able to give good jobs that pay living wages (I mean, you could, you could also go sweat shop I guess) to lots more people in the third world. It's not like american workers are somehow more important, or more deserving of a job or something.
posted by delmoi at 8:33 AM on October 22, 2002

Why does free trade have to work this way?

Maybe because a majority of customers consider price to be more important than supporting a local economy.

If you want to change this situation, then make a conscious effort to buy from your local producer. Not enough people did this, so this specific t-shirt company is no longer.
posted by jsonic at 8:35 AM on October 22, 2002

enslave women and children to tender cheaper products for Americans

Slavery means working against ones will for no pay. This happens but I dont think it represents a signifigant part of the reason why this shirt company closed. Rather many countrys are what America was 100 or 150 years ago with a transition from agriculture to industrial and have not had time to mature to the point of laws that protect workers but they will it takes generations change doesnt happen easily, cleanly or overnight.

The real crime is America forcing its current way of doing things this is at the crux of the debate against the IMF and World Bank.
posted by stbalbach at 8:43 AM on October 22, 2002

I understand it to be fairly standard practice to have to sign an agreement to not sue your former employer in order to receive your severance pay. I know when I was laid off last October I had to sign one. Not that I wanted to sue them.

on preview: jsonic, they made dress shirts, not t-shirts. Big difference, IMO.
posted by eilatan at 8:43 AM on October 22, 2002

on preview: jsonic, they made dress shirts, not t-shirts. Big difference, IMO.

If you want to support your local economy and quality working conditions, then make your purchasing decisions based on where the product was fabricated and the employment policies of that manufacturer. This holds true regardless of product (ie. t-shirt vs. dress shirt).
posted by jsonic at 9:21 AM on October 22, 2002

stbalbach: you're absolutely right- working against ones will for no pay.

Definitions also met here, here, here, and here. Just because they're not wearing chains and being whipped doesn't mean they're not enslaved. Reducing it to "what we did 150 years ago" is both untrue and unfair- 150 years ago we could at least argue we didn't have the technology (or the insight) to avoid these actions. Today we have only one excuse- profit over people, and it's horrible.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:21 AM on October 22, 2002

Also, I'm very glad that my college (NYU) has become active with their logoed garments in the No Sweat campaign... albiet a result of a previous lawsuit for (allegedly) unknowingly being involved with sweatshop labor.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:23 AM on October 22, 2002

Anyway, I don't see why you're all so sad. Chances are, those women will be able to find better jobs somewhere. There is a lot of work for semstresses in the fasion industry, making pre-production clothes for designers, etc.

They won't find other work in the industry. Central Maine is, economically, bereft and working at Hathaway was the best job that the majority of those people will ever have. Moving won't be an option for the bulk of them, either-- it takes capital to move, many of them own worthless land that they inherited and live on but can't sell and really entrenched Mainers don't adjust well even to living in the southern part of the state. It's a sad situation any way that you look at it.

Also, I'd like to thank Mischief for that cold, Right-wing reactionary comment. I doubt that much valuable training is available in an area like that, and their wages pretty much guarantee a more-or-less day-to-day existence. However, if it makes you feel better to cast a smug shadow and remind yourself how much smarter and far-sighted you are than under-educated rural millworkers, who am I to stand in your way? We all need to be reassured, even if our methods are pathetic.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:35 AM on October 22, 2002 [1 favorite]

delmoi: Anyway, I don't see why you're all so sad. Chances are, those women will be able to find better jobs somewhere.

My guess is that you've never been to central Maine. This part of the country at one time a major supplier of clothing and shoes. Most of the jobs that were available in the past involved manufacturing. What's left are call center jobs, mostly telemarketing. From another thread, we know how fulfilling that livelihood is.
posted by SteveInMaine at 9:44 AM on October 22, 2002

While it's sad that these people lost their job, no one has a right to keep their job, no matter how long they had it. The blacksmiths all lost their jobs and became computer programmers, likewise for seamstress labor.

Put it this way: People lost their jobs before free trade. In fact, the unemployment rate is considered "high" at 6 or whatever percent it's at right now, but that was considered full employment in pre-free trade days.

As for "sweatshops", most American companies don't run sweatshops these days. Despite protestors assertions, there is a reason that, for instance, Indonesians *voluntarily* work at Nike rather than substinence farm or work in their local market.

Despite all the layoffs and all the foreign moves, we now have a more educated, more fully employed, more producative populace. If we protected every job and got rid of free trade, we'd be a poorer nation for it (and probably one with a lot of street-sweepers).
posted by Kevs at 9:48 AM on October 22, 2002

On post, Steve, the town where I grew up was the tap-and-die capital of the world. That was, basically, the only job. Now they have a diversified, stronger economic base because all the tap plants are long since out of business.
posted by Kevs at 9:49 AM on October 22, 2002

Ergh. Doesn't anyone here understand comparative advantage? International trade is good.

Manufacturing textiles at "slave wage" levels is quite literally the only job available to a lot of people in the Third World. Stitching Nike shoes for $1 a day is a godsend for people in Indonesia or mainland China who otherwise would gather junk out of garbage dumps for 40 cents per day. In regards to the labor conditions at these "sweatshops", 1) poverty sucks 2) many of these stories of abuses are anecdotal. You can turn to Thomas Friedman's "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" or Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's "Two Cheers for Sweatshops" to find anecdotes about how clean, well-managed, and absolutely vital to people's livelihoods some textile factories are 3) boycotting items made in Third World countries will only make them poorer.
posted by alidarbac at 9:56 AM on October 22, 2002

XQUZYPHYR, when you can type that post on computer that wasn't soldered together by a bunch of kids in a "sweatshop" in some third world country then feel free to come back to me with your "More PC than You" attitude.
posted by bondcliff at 10:17 AM on October 22, 2002

This is NAFTA at work here.. Don't tell me no one saw this coming.. What did you guys think, that companies would actually choose to pay American salaries when you can get the same labor for 1/10 the pay somewhere else?

Right now it's mostly the relatively unskilled labor force, but it's creeping into the hi-tech area. India (pop. 1 Billion) is rapidly growing as the place to ship off many IT and customer service jobs. Just think people, for every one person here willing to do a job, there's at least four there, for 10% of the salary.

It is truly only a matter of time...
posted by eas98 at 10:30 AM on October 22, 2002

People lost their lives before the Bubonic Plague too, Kevs. Now the mortality rate is considered high, but that was considered normal in Medieval Times. That doesn't make it a good thing- it still means lots of people suffering.

And would you mind providing even a single link that gives a remotely valid argument that horrific sweatshop labor, despite countless allegations, evidence, and in some cases outright government admissions, simply doesn't exist? That's a hell of a tough pill to convince me to swallow there.

Your allegations are simply false that there are no American sweatshops. Come visit me in the East Village and I'll take you to a few- we only need to walk a couple of blocks. Even without that, I see no difference in a company having their own slaves and acquiring products through the slave labor of another government. That doesn't make me feel any better; I don't see how it makes you. "Most don't" isn't even close to being good enough.

On preview: alidarbac, I'm sorry, but I think your logic is ridiculous. Instead of saying that we have to support some of them for their own good, how about telling that we're not going to support any of them for their own good? If these nations are so dependent on U.S. labor contracts like you claim, then we should have no problem demanding that the workers recieve better treatment.

Furthermore, no one is saying that 100% of international garment labor industries are oppressive... a significant number are, and they stay that way because of support from U.S. industries. Every nation on earth at some point has noted their "better" prison and work camp conditions over that of others. Even (oh lord, I'm going to regret this later, aren't I) the Nazis had camps which outside observers were shown that treated the prisoners to a higher level; does that mean the slavery and forced labor at other camps didn't exist? (Excusing, of course, the U.S. industries that were well aware of Nazi slave labor and, as they do today, simply chose to ignore it.)

To say "not giving them your pennies is only making them poorer" is like saying that not drinking Coke ever again will only make me thirstier, or that not giving a robber my television will only make him go steal somewhere else, or how about giving a kid more money for crack because the withdrawl would be more painful. Obviously, there is no simple solution but there are vastly more options, including regulating Free Trade to require a higher definition of the Living Wage, relief of Third-World Debt, and any other action that can at least slightly aid the obscene disparity of wealth between the U.S. and the nations we outsource to.

And bondcliff, that's just sad. Are you really going to play the "you must be Satan because you don't walk on water" card?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:30 AM on October 22, 2002 [1 favorite]

Last major shirt manufacturer? Maybe. Maybe not.
posted by plinth at 10:33 AM on October 22, 2002

Why does it have to work this way? Because no one wants to make shirts here. This is a success; not a failure.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:34 AM on October 22, 2002

ParisParamus, the article implies that there are 235 people that wanted to make shirts here, and I would assume a hell of a lot more. The companies that hired them just decided they wanted people with less resistance to forced poverty.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:42 AM on October 22, 2002 [1 favorite]

And there were thousands of young kids who thought they wanted to make millions in the .com boom. Guess what.. it didn't work.

This is reality. It sucks for some people, sure, but that's what it takes to keep the coffee flowing at Starbuck's.

These people will adapt and survive. That's what humans do.
posted by bondcliff at 10:48 AM on October 22, 2002

This is a success; not a failure.

It sucks for some people, sure, but that's what it takes...

Wow, I can't wait for your guys' call from human resources. Maybe not today, maybe not next month, but it will come. Then, I'd love to hear the tune you'll be singing.
posted by eas98 at 10:55 AM on October 22, 2002

bondcliff, please read some of the links I made earlier on. My point is that this "adaptation" is leading to a new form of labor in which people are doing just that- surviving- and just barely. These people people will suffer and starve, because sadly, that what humans do to each other.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:56 AM on October 22, 2002

XQUZYPHYR, Im from Maine, and believe me, I am personally sad that Hathaway has closed, and agree with people's assessment that the economy in central Maine is not going magically become Route 128. However, saying that the company moved because it wanted to find people "with less resistance to forced poverty" is assine and simply not true.

The garment workers in Maine were relatively well paid for a US manufacturing job. Hathaway's shirst are great quality, but also fairly expensive. A good, simple white shirt from them costs well over $50. This is a competitive high end market, and Hathaway, understandably, needs to lower its costs. Just because it chooses to move from a state with a massive tax burden (look it up, Maine's is extraordinary) with a unionized workforce asking for high wages does not mean it is looking to enforce poverty. Do you honestly believe that between Hathaways current wages, and lowest wage paid to factory workers in the developing world, there is no middle ground? Would you rather that the US forbade its textile workers to move? Or should the company have run itself at a loss because it could not be competitive based in Maine?

If there is something to be done here, it is not to complain that American's want to earn wages that make basic textile products uncompetive. Rather, complain that the government doesn't invest enough in education or worker training. This is not Hathaway's fault. The factory almost closed in the mid 90s and was bailed out be several of the state's wealthiest and most influential citizens, in an effort to maintain the jobs. It just simply was not competitive.
posted by pjgulliver at 11:22 AM on October 22, 2002


I see your points and would like to add one clarification: It is not just the corporations that are causing these problems. As long as people base their buying decisions on price (and ignore working conditions), then the company that can produce a product the cheapest will win.

This can even be true for higher price items like designer jeans. The consumer may be willing to pay more for a certain brand, but unless they consider the working conditions of those who make that brand, then they are basically voicing their approval for whatever method that company uses to produce them (ie. sweatshops).

I guess my point is that this is not just a problem being forced on us by industry, we are forcing it on ourselves as well through our buying habits.
posted by jsonic at 11:24 AM on October 22, 2002 [1 favorite]

I understand, jsonic, and that's a trait that will never be prevented. There are a few options that could work and, unlike "everyone just stops buying cheap goods" would actually work:

-We endorse more international funding and debt relief to help raise the standard of living in other countries. Better healthcare and educational practices, just like in this country, are long-term investments that pay off with better workers.

-a company creates goods that are devoid of sweatshop labor, and employs a successful PR move that inspires people to support that brand. With that as a new crux of competition, other industries follow. And yes, it's feasable, and proven to work. Dolphin-safe tuna, anyone? It works with "animal cruelty-free" products; how obscene is it that we can't apply it to human beings?

-We cut out this "Axis of Evil" bullshit and accept that as a nation our government is turning a blind eye to this. If we can get this angry about the Koreans developing nuclear weapons, we can easily start raising a stink about how they treat their workers. Combining this with debt relief adopts a tried-and-true method of government reform- flat-out bribery. Let's start promising more aid to governments that crack down on labor abusers and not just the ones that give us room for military bases.

-And, of course, this means we have to start cracking down on our nation's own industrial abusers, too.

-we raise awareness to a level of lobbying the government to enforce trade regulations that prohibit the profit off of international labor abuse. No, I'm not saying that we require all countries are paid the American living wage, because I know there are differences in cost-of-living. Right now those relations are sub-standard. (Even though the cost of living in Cambodia is lower than in the U.S., the relative costs of food and necessities are not.)

-We abandon Chapter 11 of NAFTA. I am not against international trade, but this is a law that blatantly announces that corporations have seniority over Federal law. When the government bans asbestos because it kills 2,000 people a year, Canada does NOT get to sue (and fine) us because their profit margin is hurt.

Would all this reduce profit margins? Of course it would. But you know what- so did announcing that you're not allowed to own people anymore, and I doubt you'll find any economists today who will say publicly that Abolition was a stupid idea. Humanity and the market can adapt at the same time; it's just a matter of re-organizing the importance of each.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:47 AM on October 22, 2002

-a company creates goods that are devoid of sweatshop labor, and employs a successful PR move that inspires people to support that brand. With that as a new crux of competition, other industries follow.

I agree with this one. This is a simple idea to promote and support, and does not require government intervention in free markets to achieve.

I understand, jsonic, and that's a trait that will never be prevented

I think that honestly showing somebody why an idea will make their world better, and better yet, being an example of what one preaches, will sway others opinions. However, if you approach them with the attitude that they are evil and wrong for not agreeing with you, you will only make them angry and even more entrenched in their ways.
posted by jsonic at 12:23 PM on October 22, 2002


If we can get this angry about the Koreans developing nuclear weapons, we can easily start raising a stink about how they treat their workers.

Are you realy that dense? North korea makes nukes, misslies and basicaly nothing else Nothing for the outside world is manufacture there. South Korea has a standard of living comparable to Japan or the US. I hardly.

Anyway, a lot of you are out of touch with reality. This is totaly diffrent then 'dolphin safe tuna'. Either the tuna has dolphins in it or it dosn't. But there isn't an objective standard for wether or not someone is 'well treated'. I hated my old job, but I made $21 an hour. Was I well treated?

What about a 'sweat shop' worker who likes his/her job but only makes $5/day? is he/she well treated?

Some people are always going to have diffrent standards.

The point about the nazi work camps is idiotic. The fact that most nazi work camps sucked, compared to a few nice ones for outside observers does not mean the same thing for other places in other places. Did you miss the fact that these were NAZIs!?


If we didn't have progress the whole lot of humanity would be off far worse then now. 235 people lost their job. Probably more people elsewhere in the US, got 235 jobs. Or maybe even more people outside the US got even more jobs.
posted by delmoi at 1:33 PM on October 22, 2002

Another helpful solution involves emplacing a safety net for people like these workers who get burned when free trade enables jobs to shift. Both shirt consumers and the new jobholders “win” when the factory becomes more efficient by using cheaper labor. A far fewer number (235 here) “lose” when they’re unable to adapt quickly enough to the shift. Why can’t we simply compensate the losers by helping them to adapt, through temporary benefits and relocation and retraining assistance? Unemployment insurance hardly seems enough. Although I don’t want to indiscriminately recommend more government programs, it is in the country’s interests to support full employment. (These are Keynesian Alan Blinder’s ideas.)
posted by win_k at 1:38 PM on October 22, 2002

delmoi, I'm tired of linking because (as proven by your post) you're too lazy to do research yourself, but maybe before you start calling me dense you should take the 60 seconds to enter "Korea + labor practices" in a search engine and continue to try and justify the belief that there's no sweatshop labor there. As for basic knowledge, we won't even discuss how dense you look with the line "either the tuna has dolphins in it or it doesn't." If a fifth-grader said that they would consider leaving him back a year in school.

If you bothered to read any of the links or search for them yourself, you'd realize that the majority of these cases are not "less pay but I like it" dilemmas. These are cases of young children being forced into early labor, and women harassed both verbally and sexually, while being denied living compensation, medical treatment, or bathroom breaks. To even compare this to your $21/hour job that you happened to dislike is sorrowful.

We're not discussing freedom of choice for labor here; were discussing people who are in virtual slavery, be it forced debt or simply force itself. And these are areas where $5/hour is ten times their actual pay. Thanks for all the examples of $.40/hour jobs these people might be loving to have, by the way.

I don't see why you're using "progress" as the point of your thesis, either. Explain to me how anything I said is against "progress." I consider the abolition of slavery progress, and the idea of equal labor rights for women as progress: both ideas that were opposed (and for the latter shot down) as "unfeasable for business" and yet somehow we've managed to prevail. It's ignorant to suggest that adapting global business to a practice that doesn't involve overt human exploitation isn't progress... or would you rather I just suggest that it's dense?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:07 PM on October 22, 2002 [1 favorite]

North korea makes nukes, misslies and basicaly nothing else Nothing for the outside world is manufacture there. South Korea has a standard of living comparable to Japan or the US.

Okay, one link that I just had to give you. I think you should tell all the North Korean industries that export their products, including nearly $2 billion worth to the U.S., that they don't manufacture anything but weapons. It'll sure suprise the hell out of them when they discover they've all just been hallucinating. The links I mentioned before that you probably won't be bothered to look up will show evidence of sweatshop abuse in both Koreas, regardless of whatever standard of living they have.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:28 PM on October 22, 2002

XQUZYPHYR you obviously have some strong views on this topic and there really are some terrible things that go on.

However this is not a black and white issue just because some people are mistreated doesnt mean the the whole system is bad. You made the logic leap that the reason Hathaway (and others) are closeing is because of slavery. It may be a contributing factor but theres no evidence of it being the primary cause. The article you linked too said there are an estimated 2 million slaves in the world -- that includes prostitutes and textile workers and whomever else. The number of legit textile workers far exceeds that number by many orders of magnitude.
posted by stbalbach at 6:27 PM on October 22, 2002

However will all those horse-drawn carriages survive with the horseless carriages popping up all over the place? What happens to the pony express when we have aero-planes? Technology marches on. I certainly wish that instead of propping up Farmer Bob's Archaic Farm (with those ludicrous farm bills that guys like Tom Daschle stuff with pork) we could use that money to re-educate people for 21st century careers.
posted by owillis at 6:40 PM on October 22, 2002

Not exactly, stbalbach. I am trying to address those who are saying that the "need" to use foreign sweatshop labor as a means of progress for the economy is simply not true by historical inference. My references to American slavery and the Holocaust camps were a reflection of the logic of that time: that slave labor, by means of being efficient for the economy, was therefore essential/acceptable. An advanced society such as ours should realize the difference between competitive exploitation of others (healthy competition, physical prowess vs. others, etc.) and obsessive exploitation devoid of moral restraint. We believed, at a time, that it was okay to own people. Today, not a single economist would say publicly that we should still have slavery.

Though it reviles me to say it, the truth is that slavery and the use of laborers in Nazi camps were without question economically effective- it was near-infinite production resources with near-minimum overhead. That doesn't make it acceptable, and today not a single person would advocate that the needs for economic progress made them as such. Why, then, do we even attempt to suggest that the proven abuse of foreign workers is?

I'm not trying to express excessive passion about this- I'm not running around searching for labelled "sweatshop-free" clothing and villifying those who don't. My point is that there's shouldn't be "sweatshop free" labels. All products sold in this country should be that way by default.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:49 PM on October 22, 2002

Why does free trade have to work this way?

Because that's what the word "free" means.

This is an interesting discussion ... similar discussions lead to communism (which worked so marvelously well). Both seemed to imply, but never state, a similar thesis: That "society" can just decide what to do with the efforts of those who start and run businesses.

Despite all the cynicism about rich CEO's, most businesses in this country (and indeed, the world) are not large multi-nationals, they are small and medium sized businesses with low margins and modest payrolls. But the rhetoric here is priceless ... anyone that takes over a firm, or scrapes together funding (often from relatives), takes huge risks, works 20 hour days, and creates jobs is somehow not worth considering as anything other than selfish. The workers s/he employs, however, are somehow assumed to be entitled to those jobs (for what, for life?) - even if it means (apparently) the one that started the business can no longer competitively sell his/her product.

The owner is apparently greedy for not wanting to employ 1 American instead of the 7 or 8 foreign workers that would come at the same price. (I guess you either pay them, or you're guilty of promoting "slave labor"). The workers, of course, are ever virtuous - not greedy for expecting jobs to just be provided for them as though by magic, nor unrealistic for expecting any job to last an entire life. They're victims you see, of that evil free market system. (Probably not worth mentioning that they've also been living with the benefits ... as is the case with most, I'd be willing to bet their homes and closets are full of goods that were also manufactured overseas ... that they were able to buy much more cheaply because of it).

I certainly won't win any argument like this on MeFi - merely wanted to chime in for a moment and merely suggest a couple of things:

1. If you want heavy interference from government in the market ... well, it just doesn't work out in practice the way it does on paper. As regards the comment "It's ignorant to suggest that adapting global business to a practice that doesn't involve overt human exploitation isn't progress.", social theorists deciding that they have the intellect and the right to decide how to "adapt global business" (despite the fact that very few of them can even vaguely fathom what it takes to start an actual business) have lead to some of the deepest human "exploitation the world has ever seen. I'd suggest a trip to some of the old eastern bloc countries.

2. Keep in mind, when talking about the "rights" of workers, that someone has to create the jobs before anyone can have a right to them. And those that create the jobs are free to go - pretty much - anywhere they want. And anyone that thinks they are wrong for doing so ought go into hock up to their eyeballs, create a few jobs, try to sell their product in competition with others ... and then talk about how unfair companies are when they seek cheaper labor.
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:35 PM on October 22, 2002

"None of these workers saw this coming, and none of them took steps (higher education, technical training) to improve their lot? What were they? Union?"

They should have taken programming courses maybe then they could get high paying jobs at Bank of America...oh wait, those jobs are being farmed out to India. Nevermind.
posted by MikeMc at 9:50 PM on October 22, 2002

A few points to follow up on here:

Maine Unemployment: 26 weeks of benefits, tops. Anywhere from $49.00-$283.00 a week. That works out to $196-$1,132 a month. Do you honestly think that the Hathaway workers are going to get the full amount? In addition, if they've signed an agreement, does this effectively mean that they've resigned or fallen into the "between-terms" disqualification listed on the page. (After all, it is Hathaway who would be paying the unemployment insurance. And if they're looking to pinch pennies, a convenient agreement signed by employees let go may just do the trick.)

A two-bedroom apartment in Waterville, ME goes for $575. Even if the Hathaway workers are lucky to get a sizable chunk of the full unemployment amount (and we really don't know what they'll be getting, because many of them have signed the nondisparagement agreement), food, gas and electricity will easily obliterate the remainder of it. If the workers want to go to vocational or trade school, then that's additional money going into new training.

Since the workers have a 26-week window (assuming that they can actually collect the full benefits), that's 26 weeks to find a job with a reasonable wage in a highly competitive market or, more likely, two full-time jobs at minimum wage. Maine's minimum wage is $5.75 an hour. ($5.75 x 80 = $460 a week @ 2 jobs/$230 a week @ 1 job, or $920 (1)/$1,840 (2) a month. And that's NOT taking out taxes.)

Now how many of these women are single mothers? How many of them have extra mouths to feed? How many of them have husbands who are supplementing family income? How many of them have a little pocket money saved so that they can move out of Maine if they cannot find work? (In the article I linked above, it was stated that 22,000 jobs were lost in the Maine manufacturing sector since 1994.)

Now the workers were being paid anywhere from $6.50 to $15 an hour. The workers state that their unemployment checks will not pay half of what they earned weekly.

With a saturated manufacturing industry, where will the high-paying jobs come from? The sky? The job market in Maine will be so inundated with applicants that employers will only employ people for minimum wage. The hard reality is that 235 people are going to have their lives dramatically changed by this factory closing. And if Hathaway saw a plant closure coming, then they could have offered a warning that came sooner.
posted by ed at 10:47 PM on October 22, 2002

I'm trying to parse ed's hand-waving and numbers porn ("extra mouths to feed") into something tangible, and I think it boils down to:

* If you lose your job, that sucks.
* If you lose your job in a rural area, that sucks.
* If you have to go on unemployment (that's no worse than any other state's), that sucks.
[and by the way, ed, o ye of little experience with the hardscrabble parts of the world, unemployment benefits are set by the state; all it takes to get the full amount is a decent full-time wage over the last 2 years; the benefits are paid from insurance the employer has already paid into a state fund, not something discretionary to them post separation; and severance is something entirely different, and is what's secret]
* If you have to move to get a new job, that sucks.
* If you haven't saved any money, that sucks.
* If you have a family to feed, that sucks. (But there is probably some form of public assistance that will make it suck less.)
* If you work in an industry that's seen thousands of jobs lost in the last few years, and you work in a plant that's gone through a lengthy, public process of seeking a buyer-operator that failed, and that's gone through a lengthy, public process of seeking a major government contract that failed, and the obvious hasn't occurred to you yet, and the plant closes and gives severance that's really not out of line for the industry, you've somehow had little warning, and boy does that suck.

By the way, across the country, 235 people lose their jobs every 5 to 6 minutes. Since the unemployment rate remains relatively stable, that means most are actually able to find new jobs. It's probably longer during a recession, but the rule of thumb is one month for every $10K of salary you're seeking. Going out on a limb, most of these jobs were probably no higher than $15/hr or $30K a year. Twenty-six weeks of unemployment may mean eating a lot of ramen noodles and peanut butter (and I am not talking out my butt here), but it is survivable.

Hell, I lived through the 70s. I helped hand out government cheese. This ain't nothing like that.
posted by dhartung at 5:12 AM on October 23, 2002

Dan, as always, excellent post.

XQUZYPHYR, the document you linked to on Korea was dated 1993, but is probably older as it referes to the Soviet Union in the present tense. Beyond that, the document said that North Korea exports about $2 billion YEARLY TOTAL, not to the US. Its largest trading partner was the Soviet Union, and it primarily exported lightly processed minerals, not manufactured goods. Try reading before you post.
posted by pjgulliver at 8:33 AM on October 23, 2002

Puritanical Dan: You're absolutely right about the unemployment benefits pertaining to the company. My mistake on that point.

But you imply that the Hathaway workers are getting a month or two in severance pay. (It wasn't secret in this case, and I meant to point that out in my hastily composed post from above.) According to one of the articles I linked, the deal is one week for every five years worked, or roughly about three weeks, if the average worker put in fifteen years. It would seem to me that a corporation deserves to pay a substantial severance package for a worker who puts in that much of a lifetime. Hell, I once worked a job for three months and got about a month's severance pay when the operation shut down unexpectedly (pre dot com).

Also, in addition to misreading my post (perhaps all that government cheese went to your head), you've completely overlooked the working poor in your generalization. What about the people out there who are working TWO full-time minimum wage jobs? Or do they not count as real people? Just a wild guess here: could that too also account for a steady unemployment rate? Or do you believe that every job out there (and no surprise, the minimum wage service sector jobs are the ones that haven't stopped -- even during the recession) offers a living wage?

You're also assuming that the unemployment checks that the Hathaway workers are getting will be the full amount.
posted by ed at 3:02 PM on October 23, 2002 [1 favorite]

I didn't imply anything about the severance amount. You seem to think it's a big deal that it's smaller than X, but it's also larger than Y, where Y is zero. Any severance pay is voluntary and totally dependent on business climate, and I know people who got nada when they were laid off.

I don't know what you're implying I misread, since that seems to be what you're doing by implying that I said anyone wasn't "real people". Of course it sucks to be unable to pay your bills without working two jobs, but I'm not entirely certain what I'm supposed to say about it -- other than, Gosh, That Sucks.

But given your reference to "living wage", I have a hunch what your solution would be.

I'm also not "assuming" that these workers will get the full amount: I stated what it would take to get the full amount. Naturally part-time workers and those with shorter employment histories would be shortchanged -- but that would apply to me right now if I moved from freelancing to a job and then got laid off again. The workers who get full benefits will be the ones who paid the most into the insurance pool, which is sort of the way insurance works.

All you're doing, ed, is bringing up the bad situation these folks find themselves in. You're not bringing up anything wrong -- or even unusual -- that was done to them. Nor are you proposing solutions, other than implications of higher (or longer) unemployment benefits, the cost of which will be borne by all other Maine workers, or job security, which for Hathaway would have meant near-term bankruptcy and merely delayed the present plight of these workers. More severance? Who are you to dictate that? It's voluntary, or covered by a labor agreement. Higher minimum wages? You do know basic economics, don't you? That means fewer jobs. Force American consumers to pay higher prices for dress shirts? You're kidding, right? Surely Hathaway had managed its situation in a business casual era no worse than anyone else, and at higher US wages in a consumer-spending recession, they just ran out of options.

And never once have you acknowledged the responsibility of these workers to guarantee their own future by training, saving for emergencies, pooling family money, or just plain moving to someplace where there are other jobs. Somehow you think all that ought to be OUR responsibility. And worst of all, you're making it seem that by disagreeing, we just don't care.

That's cheap.
posted by dhartung at 7:07 AM on October 24, 2002

Dan: Never did I imply that it's entirely OUR responsibility. But it's certainly the responsibility of a democracy to promote the common welfare and the greatest good for its citizens. I am not convinced that the United States is doing that in matters of economic impoverishment or domestic employment, particularly when you stack our social programs and health care system against nearly any other Western nation. If the democracy rests in the hands of a few corporations, as it does right now in the States, then it's the responsibilty of them to preserve for the greater good. That is clearly not happening when corporations move to Third World countries -- indeed, the very reverse is happening.

Responsibilities do start from the individual. But a proper democracy should allow for safeguards to ensure that an individual has enough leeway to actually TAKE responsibilities, rather than be left languishing in the Hathaway shrapnel, their descent into impoverishment answered by such removed attitudes like "Gosh, that sucks."

That isn't democracy. That's callous indifference. And if America is such a prosperous nation, then it certainly isn't the best we can do. You want an economics lesson, Dan? Take a look at In 'N' Out Burger. A better burger than the franchise norm at a reasonable price. Workers getting paid a starting wage of $8 an hour with health benefits. And a restaurant chain that is starting to put a dent into McDonald's stock. In one fell swoop, you have a service sector industry that is both humane and capitalistic. And people have flocked to it for these very reasons.

One thing that we haven't mentioned within this unemployment benefits/severance discussion is that even if these workers were to nab two minimum wage jobs, they would not receive any health insurance benefits from Taco Bell or Miller's Outpost.

You want to know what's cheap, Dan? Giving an niche-skilled worker an almost impossibly small amount of time to find a job in a saturated Maine employment market, thereby forcing them to opt for service sector jobs, where they will then be worked 70-80 hours a week, putting them at a greater risk for accidents (fatigue, overwork) and, on top of that, denying them any kind of health insurance in the event that they get sick.

But then heaven help anyone who has an attitude a little bit more involved than "Gosh, that sucks," something that I generally reserve for trivialities like the Giants losing a game in the World Series.
posted by ed at 11:38 AM on October 24, 2002 [1 favorite]

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