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The last day at American Apparel: 'Lots of people were sad'

American Apparel's headquarters in downtown Los Angeles housed 2,166 workers.
Ben Bergman/KPCC
American Apparel's headquarters in downtown Los Angeles housed 2,166 workers.

The day American Apparel workers feared arrived this week, when about 2400 employees at the company's downtown Los Angeles headquarters were told they were losing their jobs effectively immediately, after American Apparel was bought out of bankruptcy by Gildan Activewear Inc. last week.

“We felt it deeply, lots of people were crying, and lots of people were sad," said Benjamin Mateos, who has worked a variety of jobs at American Apparel since 2003.

Mateos said he arrived at American Apparel headquarters at his normal start time of 4 a.m. Monday and the building was locked. He and other employees were given their last paycheck and informed they were out of their jobs immediately. 

"It was such a surprise," said Mateos. "We never imagined that they would do this to us.”

No one at American Apparel agreed to be interviewed, but spokeswoman Arielle Patrick pointed out that the company filed a federal WARN notice last month informing 3500 employees they could lose their jobs.

"American Apparel has been in constant written and verbal communication with employees, letting them know how the sale process has been going all along, and what to expect," said Patrick. "Because American Apparel cares deeply about its employees and their futures, the company has been offering high-quality career mentoring and resource center, and a job fair to all employees at no cost to them, on-site for the past several weeks."

Employees did not receive any severance, and only the highest-level managers were spared, according to Nativo Lopez, an activist with worker rights group Hermandad Mexicana who tried unsuccessfully to organize American Apparel workers. 

"This is their present for the new year, the termination from this company," said Lopez.

Mateos said he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next.

"Some people are going to apply for unemployment, and a lot of us are going to look for work, to try to find other means, because there are thousands of us," he said. 

He hopes to find a job working for Dov Charney, who was ousted as CEO of American Apparel in 2014. Charney says he’s opening up a new clothing factory in South L.A.

“I’ve already hired 75 people – some of them were hired on a part-time basis – and I plan to hire thousands," Charney told KPCC's Take Two on Tuesday. "What I'm planning to do is continue and start a new company, but it would really be the old company. I will continue the spirit of what was."

However, "plan" is the operative word since Charney’s new venture doesn’t have a name yet.

Patrick said American Apparel's deal with Broncs Inc. to take over its Garden Grove facility will save 300 jobs, and some workers will stay on during Gildan's acquisition.