• 91°

New Era plant manager has been here before

Alvin Williams and the New Era Cap facility on Cedar Avenue have a long history together. He was witness to a facility closure when Vanity Fair was closed in 1998. He has seen several success stories and hard times that affected him and his workers.

With the news Tuesday that the Communications Workers of America union in Derby, N.Y., has ratified the contract calling for the closure of the Demopolis plant later this year, he is witness again to another tragic, historic chapter in his hometown’s history.

“I’ve been in this plant since 1972, on and off,” he said. “I worked up until this plant closed as a VF (Vanity Fair) Corporation plant in 1998. Then, I finally left my hometown and went down to Atmore and ran the facility there until it closed.

“At that moment, with regard to New Era having come in and so many of our civic leaders having done such an outstanding job of recruiting them, they came to Demopolis. Because of the success that they had with the initial opening, they made the decision that they were going to expand further in Alabama, and they opened what was also a Vanity Fair plant in Jackson. So, both of the plants that they opened had Vanity Fair personnel who worked there.”

At about the same time, Vanity Fair closed its last domestic sewing plant in Atmore, giving Williams a chance to come back home and work at New Era, and has been here for about nine years.

“It’s going to be a very, very tough thing,” Williams said of the pending closure of the plant. “I’ve known many of these people — some of them for 30 years. They are a wonderful group of folks. I’ve always told everybody that it is a family atmosphere. We have good days, and we have bad days, but when everything is down and dirty, I know those folks out there and they know me, and we’ll put our heads together and figure something out. We’ve always been successful at that.

“I’ve said it several times over the last week: I am so proud of the City of Demopolis and the people in this plant, whether they be staff or employees. We’ve done everything with the perspective of trying to keep this plant alive that we possibly can.”

Williams was appreciative of the actions taken by the city, county and state to try to keep the plant open.

“The package that was put together by the city, county and state was unbelievable,” he said. “It was huge, and I’m sure that made it an even more difficult decision for the owner of our corporation to determine what was going to be done.”

Now with just a few months remaining, there is still work to be done.

“Everything that we do now is really in two mindsets,” Williams said. “To close this plant in a professional way and to do all the things that we can do to continue to make this company successful. The secondary thing is strictly to try and help our employees find something.

“We are a long way from even getting started at this moment in time. The folks came back in here the day after the announcement, then it was business as usual. They went right back to work and they did their jobs just exactly as they’ve always done them. I couldn’t ask them to do more.”

Williams was born in Demopolis, was a 1968 graduate of Demopolis High School and, apart from going to college in Livingston and working in Atmore, has always lived here. His time with the Vanity Fair and New Era plants is more than an entry on his resume; it is his life’s blood.