HAVERHILL — With more than 400 workers at risk of losing their jobs at the Southwick clothing factory in Haverhill, Mayor James Fiorentini said he is working with the governor and Congresswoman Lori Trahan to help the maker of Brooks Brothers suits and military dress uniforms stay in business.
Southwick owner Brooks Brothers Inc. recently notified state labor officials that it plans to lay off 413 employees in Haverhill.
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice of layoffs submitted last week to the MassHire Department of Career Services has an effective date of July 20.
"We've been hearing for some time that Brooks Brothers was filing a statement with the state," Fiorentini said. "If Southwick does go down, it will be a big economic blow to the entire region.
"I don't think people realize the serious state the economy is in," he said of the impact of the coronavirus crisis.
A statement from Brooks Brothers said that in the ordinary course of business, the company consistently explores various options to position the business for growth and success.
"As part of this assessment, it is possible that Southwick would close," the statement said. "We delivered WARN notices last week to the impacted employees in order to provide workers with sufficient time to prepare for potential loss of employment. This decision is subject to change, should alternative solutions be uncovered in the near-term.
"The factory is incredibly meaningful to our heritage and we value our employees," the statement said. "All opportunities on the table are still being explored to avoid this difficult outcome."
In 2008, Southwick, then located in Lawrence, was on the verge of closing and having its operations moved overseas. But then it was bought by Retail Brand Alliance, the parent company of Brooks Brothers, to which Southwick had been supplying suits to since 1947.
The following year, Southwick moved into a building in Haverhill's Broadway Business Park. In 2015, the company moved into the former Lowe's building, in the same business park, which provided room for expansion. The company was provided with tax credits to help with the transition.
Fiorentini said Haverhill residents make up about 30 percent of Southwick's more than 400 workers and that many of the workers are from Lawrence.
"They are there now operating in Haverhill with 50 to 70 people and unfortunately Brooks Brothers may be one of many businesses that may go under because of the pandemic," Fiorentini said. "We've been hoping for some time that the military uniform part of their business would save them, and Congresswoman Trahan has been working on that."
In March, it was announced that as many as 400 Southwick employees who were out of work due to the pandemic would return to the factory to make fabric masks to aid in the coronavirus fight.
The Haverhill factory joined Brooks Brothers locations in New York and North Carolina transitioning from making high-end apparel to producing masks for nursing homes and local health care facilities.
At the time, Brooks Brothers Chief Executive Officer Claudio Del Vecchio said the company planned to produce up to 150,000 masks daily at its factories and eventually begin making protective gowns for medical personnel.
All of Brooks Brothers' manufacturing capacity at its U.S. factories is now dedicated to making masks, the company has said.
The capacity varies daily by facility, but the company has produced and delivered several hundred thousand masks since launching the initiative as part of its efforts to support essential workers during the virus crisis.
Fiorentini said he hopes Southwick can remain open by transitioning to other products.
"We're reaching out to Brooks Brothers to see if we can help them retool for medical supplies and equipment, or if they are interested in spinning off Southwick," the mayor said.
Fiorentini said he expects to announce next week that a new company is poised to move to the city, and although it is not in the clothing industry, it could help offset the loss of some jobs.
"The economic impact is falling disproportionately on the poor ... those who are least able to withstand it," the mayor said of the impact of the pandemic. "Southwick had employees representing many different cultures and was like a mini United Nations."
Dougan Sherwood, president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, said he is working with Northern Essex Community College and MassHire Merrimack Valley Career Center to find alternative work for Southwick employees who may be laid off
"Several hundred jobs going away is significant so we're looking at what opportunities we can discover to get these people back to work," Sherwood said.