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New Era Cap Co. Consolidating Plants

Headgear maker said low consumer demand is forcing the consolidation of its U.S. manufacturing operations from three plants to one.

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- New Era Cap Co., which supplies Major League baseball players and celebrities, said Thursday that low consumer demand is forcing the consolidation of its U.S. manufacturing operations from three plants into one.

The Buffalo-based headgear maker plans to close its Jackson, Ala., facility by February, eliminating 322 jobs, spokesman Paul Gallagher said.

A decision on which of the other two plants will go -- either Demopolis, Ala., or Derby, N.Y. -- will be made after discussions with the Communications Workers of America, which represents employees at both facilities, Gallagher said. That decision is expected in the spring.

Also targeted for closing in the second quarter of 2010 is a distribution center in Mobile, Ala., with 70 workers.

The family-owned company produced 11 million caps in the United States in 2008 and is expected to make around 6 million in 2009. The U.S. plants had manufactured about 5.4 million caps through Nov. 1, the company said.

Most popular are the 59Fifty style -- which is a product number that dates to the 1930s. Popularized by Spike Lee and other celebrities, those are the fitted on-field caps that tend to be easy to spot because wearers often leave the round product sticker on the brim. They retail for between $32 and $36.

But consumer demand has dropped 10 to 15 percent since the recession began and there has been a dramatic decline for custom orders over the past 18 months as independent retailers have struggled or closed, Gallagher said.

"We simply do not have enough consumer demand for domestically made products to support three plants going forward," he said.

The Demopolis plant has 350 employees and there are 334 in Derby, near Buffalo.

About 20 to 30 percent of workers at all the plants have been on temporary layoffs since mid-August, Gallagher said.

New Era also has operations in Canada, Europe, Japan and Hong Kong.

The Jackson and Mobile facilities are represented by the Teamsters Union.

"The union is currently in the process of verifying the details in New Era's announcement and how it will impact our members," Teamsters spokesman Galen Munroe said. He declined to comment further.

A call to the CWA was not immediately returned Thursday. CWA officials who are expected to immediately begin discussions with New Era management on the future of the Derby and Demopolis operations.

Gallagher said productivity, seniority, efficiency and geographic location would factor into the decision on which plant to save.

"We recognize the significant impact this decision will have on our employees and the communities where our plants are located," a statement from the company said. "We are committed to doing everything we can to assist our employees through this difficult process and to support the affected communities."

In 2004, New Era closed a Buffalo manufacturing facility, merging operations into the Derby location.

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