ORANGE — Few if any of the 200 workers who turned out for a union rally in front of Vans Inc. shoe company believed they could stop the closing of their plant Monday, but Teamsters officials were not about to let it happen quietly.
"It's a long shot," said Teamsters official Raul Lopez of a letter presented to the company Wednesday appealing for a last meeting. "But being the Teamsters, we're going to go down swinging."
Lopez and three workers had a short, closed-door meeting with Vans Vice President and General Counsel Craig E. Gosselin as workers chanted "Yes, it can be done" in Spanish and waved union placards outside the corporate offices on Batavia Street.
But Gosselin later said he told them the same thing corporate officials said when they announced the plant closing May 31: The plant is closing because customers are not buying the types of shoes the Orange plant produces.
The workers asked to meet with Vans President Walter E. Schoenfeld, who was unavailable Wednesday. Gosselin said he would try to arrange a meeting before Monday's closing.
Gosselin brushed aside Teamster claims that plans to close the plant were made only when it appeared that the union might be successful in organizing the largely Latino work force. The plant is being closed "purely for business reasons," Gosselin said. "This is absolutely not union-busting."
Company officials have attributed the plant closure, which will mean the end of about 900 jobs for factory workers here, to declining profits and changing trends in shoe fashion.
The company opened in Anaheim in 1966 as the Van Doren Rubber Co. and moved its operations to Orange in 1984, changing its name to Vans when it went public in 1991.
Union organizing efforts led to a representation election in April, 1994, in which a Teamsters bid was rejected by workers. But the National Labor Relations Board alleged labor law violations and called for new balloting. That election was set for June 30, but on May 31 the company announced that the plant would be closed.
Some of the production in Orange will be transferred to Vista in San Diego County, while other sections, including corporate headquarters, will move to the City of Industry, Gosselin said.
Human Resources Director Jacquelin Cleary said 44 workers had been offered jobs in Vista but only six had accepted to date. She said many employees declined the offer because they did not want to uproot their families.
But some employees said Wednesday that they were told the Vista plant would offer no overtime, and one said that those who had supported the union were told they would not be welcome. Cleary denied those claims and said the offers were made on a seniority basis.
Many held the union responsible for the closure but expressed no animosity. They also spoke of poor working conditions and low wages offered by Vans.
"All this started when the union came in," said Armando Morales, a 36-year-old worker from Anaheim who has been with Vans for 15 years. "I am neither for or against the union. If they go to Industry they will probably close that factory too. I will just have to go look for work somewhere else."
Employees, some of whom have worked at the plant for more than 15 years, were hoping that the rally might produce a better severance package than the company's offer of one day's pay for each year worked.
Cleary said the compensation was not considered a "severance package" but was "just a little something, a cash bonus in appreciation for their years of service."
Lopez said that Vans' tangles with the Teamsters will not end in Orange. "After this situation [in Orange] is settled, we will go to Industry or any city within our jurisdiction," he said.
Times correspondent Hope Hamashige contributed to this report.