Business & Economy

Some good news for the 2,400 people laid off from American Apparel

The American Apparel factory in downtown Los Angeles in Aug. 2010.
The American Apparel factory in downtown Los Angeles in Aug. 2010.

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The federal government had some good news Friday for the 2,400 people laid off from American Apparel's Los Angeles factories earlier this year: It approved the company's petition for money to cover the ex-workers' retraining and education over the next two years.

The U.S. Department of Labor said the former employees qualify for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, an initiative established in 1962 to provide money to American workers who've lost their jobs due to global competition or outsourcing.

When KPCC caught up with one of the company's employees, Sergio Cardenas, he had not yet heard of the program. He recalled the shock he and many of his colleagues felt the day of the mass layoffs.

Cardenas has since kept in contact with many of his former co-workers. He said many of the sewing machine operators have moved on to gigs in other factories. A few other people want to start their own businesses.

He decided to go back to school. He's studying for a certificate in project management so he can work in a field that's more secure than clothing manufacturing. He's hoping for a job in renewable energy.

"The goal is to look for certifications that I can add to my personal resume so that I can look better on paper," he said.

Cardenas said he will seek out additional training programs, and hopes the TAA money will pay for them.

Former American Apparel workers will soon be officially notified about their TAA eligibility, said Jan Perry, general manger of the Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development Department, which administers the program locally.

"I expect that we will do outreach on a number of levels, which would include phone calls, letters, actual field visitations. Anyway we can find as many people as we can possibly find."

The laid-off workers will need to enroll for TAA funding at an Economic and Workforce Development WorkSource center. Nine of the region's 17 WorkSource centers will disperse the TAA funds, including those in Boyle Heights, Hollywood, Watts and northeast Los Angeles.

It's hard to put a price tag on how much the program will cost, said Perry, because it's unclear how many people will seek out retraining and/or education. The cost will also depend on which types of training is provided, she added.

Perry said the centers have already provided services to more than 750 former American Apparel workers. More than 400 have applied for unemployment insurance. Others have signed up for job training and English-as-a-second-language classes, Perry said.

About 25 employers have helped place workers in new positions including sewers, housekeepers and fork lift drivers, the Economic and Workforce Development Department said in a statement.

The agency has also helped 169 workers receive medical services and enroll in CalFresh, which provides monthly food benefits to assist low-income households in purchasing the food they need.

Additionally, Economic and Workforce Development received verbal approval of a $3 million federal grant last month to provide additional job training for American Apparel's former employees.