Hanes cutting 1,300 N.C. jobs

Underwear maker Hanesbrands Inc., North Carolina's second-largest manufacturing employer, is closing its Gastonia plant and eight others in five countries as part of a major realignment, as the company increases production in Asia to save money.

The moves, announced Wednesday, will eliminate the jobs of about 8,100 workers in the U.S. and Central America – including more than 1,300 in North Carolina. Winston-Salem-based Hanesbrands, the country's largest maker of T-shirts and socks, makes apparel under the Hanes, Champion and Playtex brand names and has about 50,000 employees in 25 countries.

About 140 people work at the plant on Poplar Street in Gastonia.

Among them was Bill Sanders, 69, who found out about the closing when he showed up at the plant Wednesday about 7 a.m. Sanders has worked there for 10 years but has been in textiles a total of 53 years.

“It all ended today. My whole life changed,” he said. “Have you ever had your heart torn out of you? That's what it did to me. I went weak.”

Sanders said some of his co-workers cried and hugged each other after they found out about the closing, which was effective immediately.

“It was all so quick,” he said. “Why did it have to happen? It was a good plant with the best people in Gaston County. I was happy there. That's where I was going to retire. I'll never find another job in textiles.”

In a news release, the company said it is expanding production in Asia and consolidating into fewer and larger plants in lower-cost countries.

“Globalizing our supply chain, and eventually balancing production between Asia and the Western Hemisphere, is a critical plank in our strategic efforts to reduce costs, improve product flow and increase our competitiveness,” said Hanesbrands Chief Executive Richard Noll in a statement.

The moves will cost $76 million, with about two-thirds of that recorded in the third quarter of 2008.

Since it was spun off from food maker Sara Lee Corp. in 2006, Hanesbrands has focused on restructuring its business, cutting jobs, closing plants and distribution centers, and moving production to sites in Asia and Central America.

With the latest restructuring costs, Hanesbrands says it has now taken about $204 million of the $250 million in such charges it expects to incur in the three years following its spinoff.

As part of the current restructuring the company plans to close seven plants this year. In North Carolina, besides the Gastonia plant, the company will shut its knit-fabric textile plant in Forest City in Rutherford County, which has 470 employees. Production is expected to end by the end of the year at the company's yarn plant in Eden, affecting 120 employees. In 2009, the company expects to close its knit-fabric textile plant in Eden, affecting about 600 employees.

Operations at Hanesbrands' sheer hosiery inventory warehouse in Rockingham, which has 15 employees, are expected to end by the end of November, the company said.

The company will also close sewing plants in El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica.

Textile production from the plants closed will be absorbed into existing plants in Central America. Most of the sewing production from Central American plants that are closing will be moved to the company's Vietnam and Thailand plants. Hanesbrands expects to increase its work force in Asia from 4,000 today to 6,000 by the end of 2008.

The company is also building a textile fabric plant in Nanjing, China, which is expected to begin to ramp up production in 2009 to supply fabric to the company's expanding Asian sewing network.

When the North Carolina plants and warehouse are closed, Hanesbrands will have 5,030 employees in North Carolina, including about 3,385 in Forsyth County, home of Winston-Salem. It also will have about 9,800 in the United States. It will have 11 domestic plants, including limited production in Winston-Salem, a sock plant in Mount Airy and yarn plants in China Grove and Sanford. The Associated Press, Bloomberg News and the Winston-Salem Journal contributed to this article.