Haas softens plant closing with job offer

Westminster plant to take about half of 95 workers

Many are near retirement

Shutdown of factory in E. Baltimore ends 104-year history here

May 26, 2001|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Haas Tailoring Co., whose suits have been worn by the likes of former President Bill Clinton, the Temptations and World War II Gen. George S. Patton, said yesterday that it will offer jobs at a Westminster plant to many of its employees when the company closes its doors in mid-June.

The manufacturer, which has been sewing custom-tailored suits in Baltimore for 104 years, employs about 95 people at its Sinclair Lane plant in East Baltimore. Many of them are at or near retirement age and probably will not want to take jobs out of town, said Sergio Casalena, executive vice president of Haas' parent company.

Casalena said he expects about half the workers to take jobs in Westminster at a plant owned by Haas' parent, the Tom Jones Co. of Nashville, Tenn., where customers can still get measured for custom suits.

"Our workers here are really, really good people and proud people, and they deserve to be praised for their behavior and their skill," he said. "This is not anything anybody did wrong; it just didn't make economic sense."

Baltimore officials offered Haas some incentives to stay in the city, Casalena said.

"They did everything they could, but it wasn't very much," he said.

M. J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm, said the city proposed a grant to train new workers and the agency offered "several hundred thousand dollars" in low-cost loans to buy new equipment.

He noted that two local companies, Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc. and London Fog Industries Inc., have largely stopped manufacturing clothing in this country because of cheaper labor elsewhere.

"On the one hand, we're sorry to lose these [Haas] jobs," Brodie said, "and on the other hand, it's not surprising."

Displaced workers will get help from the city's Office of Employment Development with everything from grief counseling to retraining to job placement.

Casalena said Carroll County and Westminster have not offered any incentives, but he is in discussions with officials there about subsidizing part of the cost of transporting workers to Westminster.

The city is about 35 miles from Baltimore, and the company is looking into providing some sort of bus service or organizing carpools and helping workers pay for gasoline.

"It's very, very sad," he said. "We've broken a tradition by not being able to save the business." Apparel makers in the United States are at a great disadvantage, Casalena said, to competitors in other countries, especially in Canada.

That's because there are 30 percent tariffs on wool imported here, while Canadian companies face much smaller, if any, duties.

Canadian producers, thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, can then bring the suits to the United States duty free and undercut American manufacturers.

"Suit makers here are getting hurt as a result," said Jack Morgan, spokesman for the American Apparel and Footwear Association.

A law signed by Clinton last year calls for lower tariffs on imported wool, but so far tariffs have been reduced - to 18 percent - on only about a quarter of the wool imported.

The International Trade Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on further tariff reductions Thursday.

"If we can't reduce this duty, it's cheaper to import wholly made suits from Europe," Morgan said.

He said suit makers also have been hit by the trend toward more casual clothes in the work place, especially now that "casual Fridays" have been extended to full-time casual in many offices.

Haas was founded by German merchant Jacob Haas on Broadway near Eastern Avenue in 1897.

It was passed down through the generations until John Haas - Jacob's grandson - sold the company two years ago to Individualized Apparel Group, a subsidiary of Tom Jones Co.

Other former Baltimore clothiers include Strouse and Bros., Schoenman, Lebow, and Oakloom Clothing.

Workers at Haas are represented by the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees. Calls to the union's office were not returned yesterday.

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