Employment blues

160 jobs at stake in Kellwood’s closing

CLOSING SOON<br>Kellwood Co. is poised to shut its Chico facility, in the former Koret building near the Chico Municipal Airport, in August. Its closure could put as many as 160 people out of their jobs.

Kellwood Co. is poised to shut its Chico facility, in the former Koret building near the Chico Municipal Airport, in August. Its closure could put as many as 160 people out of their jobs.

Photo By Robert Speer

Luis Solorio was scheduled to go on vacation next month, but he may have to put those plans on hold. That’s because he and his co-workers at Kellwood Co.'s distribution hub learned about three weeks ago they will be gradually laid off between July 13 and Aug. 31.

“You already have plans for the future,” Solorio said. “Now you have to cut back on all your expenses and stuff because now you don’t know how long it will be before you get [another] job.”

According to a press release sent by Kellwood on May 11, the company will collapse its Chico distribution center—the former Koret facility at 1100 Marauder Street near the Chico Municipal Airport—in late August.

“There aren’t as many requirements of handling inventory now as there were in the past,” said Kellwood’s vice president of corporate communications, Donna Weaver. “We’ve notified local officials that the work has been phased out.”

The phase-out will divert clothing products currently shipped from Chico to Kellwood’s other distribution points in City of Industry, Calif., and Trenton, Tenn. This move will displace the estimated 140 to 160 employees at the Chico center, Weaver said.

Several employees, including Solorio, are awaiting information regarding a possible severance package and help with future employment.

“They said they’re going to have a job fair, but they don’t even know a date,” Solorio said. “Are we going to have to come back to the job fair? What are they doing now before everybody leaves?”

UNITE HERE, the garment union representing the workers at Chico’s distribution hub, is aware of the situation and is beginning the process to try to save the plant from collapse.

“Right now I’m trying to think positive,” said UNITE HERE representative Cristina Vazquez. “Were gonna try to fight to keep this place open.”

Vazquez believes the workers in Chico’s plant have made significant contributions as a workforce since Kellwood acquired Koret in 1999. If its effort fails, UNITE HERE will begin negotiations for a severance package, she said.

“Were gonna try to make sure the workers have a cushion until they get retrained or find another job,” Vazquez explained.

The Missouri-based Kellwood is a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange and touts itself as “a $2 billion marketer of apparel and soft consumer goods.”

Kellwood distributes clothing from 36 separate name brands, some of which also travel through Chico’s plant on their way to department store floors. Those clothing lines include such names as Calvin Klein, Liz Claiborne and Nautica.

Kellwood’s possible departure threatens to worsen Chico’s already weak employment situation.

As of May 2, 2007, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked Chico number 335 of 369 U.S. metropolitan service areas in terms of employment opportunities, citing Chico as having a 6.7 percent unemployment rate.

This, coupled with 2005 U.S. Census numbers of an eligible workforce of 38,480 people, equals roughly a 15-to-1 ratio of employed to unemployed.

According to the Butte County Economic Development Corp.'s Web site, Koret was listed as a Top 10 employer in this community. The corporation also states it is the lead agency for business attraction in the vicinity.

For now Solorio, who has been working at Kellwood for the last 3 1/2 years, just wants to know what will happen to him and others he works with.

“A lot of these people are only Spanish speakers and will have a hard time finding a job,” Solorio said. “A lot of people are concerned because a lot of us are leaving on the 20th of July and we have no answer about anything.”