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Will Patagonia Save Polartec’s Massachusetts Operation?

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It’s been six months since Polartec said it would move its manufacturing from Massachusetts to Tennessee. Now, the union representing the plant’s workers is calling on Patagonia to purchase the technical fabric company from its current owners in a bid to save hundreds of jobs.

Polartec, which was acquired by private-equity firm Versa Capital in 2007, announced plans to shut its Lawrence plant, cutting nearly 350 full- and part-time positions in the process. The company said the decision was the result of increased market pressure and underused space in the facility and the layoffs are slated to start in July, with production expected to end by Dec. 31.

“In its most productive year, the company has only been able to use 25 percent of its Lawrence facility,” Polartec said in a statement.

Last week, the union sent a letter to Patagonia’s chief executive officer and its board, asking the outdoor brand, which has had a decades-long relationship with Polartec, to buy the company and continue operations in Lawrence.

“We write because we believe Patagonia, with its deep connections to Polartec and its innovative approach to finding business solutions to social and environmental problems, is in a position to turn this situation into something remarkable and inspiring,” the letter said. “By stepping in to help keep Polartec in Lawrence, Patagonia has a chance not only to secure the environmental and quality standards of one of the most significant products in its supply chain, but to save hundreds of good union jobs and, with them, a living piece of American labor history.”

Several labor and economics professors have also signed the letter.

Aaron Feuerstein, who owned the plant when it was known as Malden Mills, before it was purchased by Versa Capital and rebranded as Polartec, has taken the decision to shut down operations in Lawrence personally, calling it “a disgrace.” And rightly so: when an electrical fire destroyed two-thirds of the factory in 1995, leaving the majority of its staff out of work, Feuerstein spent $430 million to rebuild the facility while simultaneously continuing to pay the workers their full wages out of pocket.

“We considered our workers stakeholders, a part of the factory. They consider workers just a pair of hands,” he said.

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