Hanesbrands goes on a panty raid

by Jim Longworth

Last week came the announcement that 120 more people would lose their jobs. Ho hum, just another typical day for Hanesbrands.

The layoffs, 80 in Davie County and 40 in Asheboro, are the latest efforts of Hanesbrands executives to improve profits by closing American plants and putting Americans out of work. I believe the running total is nearly 14,000 in the past year including over 1,400 locally.

Workers at the Advance plant make elastic, which is sewn outside the United States for inclusion into the waistbands of women’s underwear. Hanesbrands Executive Vice President Gerald Evans rationalized the layoffs to the Winston-Salem Journal by saying, “It is not cost-efficient for us to operate dedicated plants in the United States and then send these specialized fabrics offshore for inclusion in the production of our products.”

Don’t you love the double-talk logic of that statement? Of course it’s not cost efficient, because Hanesbrands outsourced the work in the first place! Thus, Evans is blaming the job losses on a condition his company created.

And not to digress from my rant against Hanesbrands, but I am also livid about the statement from Michael Lord, associate professor of management at Wake Forest University who told the Journal: “If you make garments in another country, it might be much more efficient to also make the necessary components overseas as well…. It has a lot to do with running a more efficient global supply chain.”

Hey, thanks for putting a human spin on the story for us, Professor Robot.

Where’s the compassion? Where’s the anger? Does anyone care about these 120 jobless folks except them and me? Will you continue to buy Hanes underwear at Wal-Mart and Kohl’s knowing that thousands of American families are suffering because you want to save a buck?

Let’s suppose for a moment that you really don’t care about plant closings. Let’s examine the buck you’re saving on panties. Every time Hanesbrands lays off an American worker, the company can file with the Labor Department for employee benefits through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Reform Act.

Displaced employees can then apply for a host of services, including training. They can also receive up to two years pay, including the last 78 weeks from TAA. And who foots the bill for these benefits? Not Hanesbrands. You pay for it with your federal tax dollars.

Now don’t get me wrong. I want laid-off workers to get every bit of help they need, but shouldn’t that help come from or be paid for by Hanesbrands?

This is a company that made $4.5 billion in revenues in 2006, and they did it by continuing to put Americans out of work while replacing them with Dominicans, Mexicans and Asians. Hanesbrands currently employs 50,000 people, but 35,000 of them are outside the United States. How are those discount panties feeling to you now?

The villain behind the villain in this story is so-called free trade. NAFTA, CAFTA and other trade agreements are killing North Carolina, and companies like Hanesbrands are simply hiding behind those agreements in order to justify cutting their American workforce. The TAA was established in good faith to help people who lost their jobs because of imports or a shift in production to another country to which the United States has an agreement. If Hanesbrands closed every plant in this country because of hardship and then dissolved the company, we would feel their pain. But Hanesbrands management isn’t feeling any hardship. They’re simply firing higher-paid American workers and replacing them with low-wage foreign workers.

A confidential source at the Department of Labor agreed that such practices abuse the spirit of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Reform Act, and that something should be done to change the process.

One solution is to require offending companies like Hanesbrands to be assessed a TAA fee for every displaced employee so that all transition services and benefits would be paid by the employer and not the taxpayers.

We also need to repeal all current trade agreements and re-evaluate them to make sure America enjoys a truly fair and balanced trading status.

If something isn’t done soon, there won’t be enough of us working in North Carolina to pay the taxes to support TAA and unemployment benefits.

It’s enough to get your panties all twisted up in a knot.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” which can be seen on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV 48 (cable channel 15).