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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Sept. 30) – Express Manufacturing in Puerto Rico will be the sixth garment factory on Saipan to close this year, resulting in an additional 400 displaced resident and nonresident workers by Dec. 1, Variety learned.

Management informed its employees of the closure before noon on Friday, the same day Variety reported that Winners Corp. II garment factory, with some 350 workers, is closing by December,

Employees interviewed at Express Manufacturing said they were surprised to learn of the factory’s closure.

"We were always paid on time, the management was okay, so we didn’t think it would close just like the others. But at least they gave us two months of advance notice," said a worker who has been employed by Express Manufacturing for four years as a line helper.

The employees were made to sign a closure notice on Friday, and were also verbally informed of the management decision by their supervisors.

"We will be jobless by Christmas. It’s so sad, especially because of the high cost of living. Only my husband will be working until I can get another job," said another line helper.

Express Manufacturing, which produces The Unlimited and Ann Taylor apparel, among other brands, joins the list of local garment factories that have closed or are closing this year: Mariana Fashions Inc., Sako Corp., La Mode (Saipan) Inc., Neo Fashion Inc. and Winners Corp. II.

Colin M. Thompson, counsel for Express Manufacturing, told Variety on Saturday: "I have no comment (about the reason for closure) but I can confirm to you that a notice has been given to employees that the factory is going to close by Dec. 1."

Thompson, along with the office of Express Manufacturing general manager Ig-gag Choi, said more information will be released later.

All the other closed factories cited the liberalization of world trade rules as the reason for shutting down their Saipan operations. The new trade rules allow manufacturers from other countries where wages are lower, notably China, to also export to the U.S. with fewer restrictions.

Labor Director Dean O. Tenorio said as of 2:30 p.m. on Friday, they had not received an official notice of closure from Express Manufacturing, but confirmed receiving a notice last week from Winners Corp. II.

Another Express Manufacturing employee said she will go to the Department of Labor to register.

"I have worked for Express for almost three years as a line helper.... We iron, trim, cut garments. I need to find another job," the worker said.

Most of the factory workers are Chinese and Koreans, while the resident workers are mostly Pohnpeians.

Some workers said there may be a management plan to transfer operations to Vietnam, after eight years of operating on Saipan.

Meanwhile, an estimated 350 additional resident and nonresident garment workers on Saipan will be unemployed when Winners Corp. II in Chalan Laulau closes in December.

October 3, 2005

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