We'll Close! Plant Closings, Plant-Closing Threats, Union Organizing and NAFTA
Nike Does It To Vietnam
Conflict in the Strawberry Fields
The Bhopal Legacy
Behind the Lines
Guess Goes South
Guess?, Inc. is heading South. With UNITE, the clothing and textile union, picking up steam in its efforts to organize Guess's U.S. facilities, the jeans maker revealed in January that it is shifting approximately 40 percent of its production from the United States to Mexico, Chile and Peru.
Guess chief executive officer Maurice Marciano told the Wall Street Journal that the percentage of Guess jeans sewn in Los Angeles would drop from 75 percent in mid 1996 to 35 percent in February. As recently as three years ago, Guess touted the fact that it made 95 percent of its products in the United States.
Mexican garment workers earn an estimated one-fifth to one-tenth of the wages of workers in Los Angeles, most of whom are Latino immigrants.
UNITE is running a major campaign to organize several thousand workers at Guess and at Guess subcontractors. The campaign is the centerpiece of UNITE's effort to unionize the Los Angeles apparel industry. An estimated 2 to 3 percent of the Los Angeles industry is currently unionized.
The clear message of the production shift, says Steve Nutter, Los Angeles Vice President of UNITE, is, "If you try to clean up sweatshops, and try to do it by organizing unions ... then we will pull out of the country."
With the UNITE campaign in high gear, Guess has been on the defensive for the past year. Last July, California state regulators uncovered workers illegally working at home for Guess. In August, workers sued Guess and 16 contractors, accusing the companies of cheating workers out of wages and employing children. In November, the National Labor Relations Board charged Guess with firing pro-union workers. Subsequently, the U.S. Labor Department put Guess on probation for its place on the Trendsetter List, a directory of apparel companies that ensure their goods are not made under sweatshop conditions.
On January 31, the Labor Department extended Guess's probationary period, citing the company's decision to shift production out of the United States.
Glenn Weinman, Guess general counsel, insists the company's decision to shift production south had nothing to do with the UNITE organizing drive. "They give themselves credit for things they have nothing to do with," he told Multinational Monitor. "They'd like to think" they spurred the move.
In an extraordinarily unusual statement for a corporate representative, Weinman explains that, "as a result of NAFTA," the company can now have quality products made for lower wages in Mexico.
Asked if NAFTA was important in facilitating the move, Weinman says, "Yes." He adds, "NAFTA has opened the doors" to companies looking to move to Mexico -- and then he proceeds to read from a file of newspaper clips of companies moving to Mexico because of NAFTA and "competitive costs" in Mexico.