Brooks Brothers is the oldest clothing manufacturer in the U.S. and has outfitted 39 out of 44 presidents. Every year, its 1.5 million ties move from fabric to finished product in the company’s factory in Long Island City. The factory is also home to the company’s northeast alterations center, tailoring clothing for stores without in-house tailors or with more work than the stores can handle.
Garment work, especially the close work of tailoring, requires years of experience. The factory employs a total of 228 full-time workers, including 154 that are 50 and over. The tone of the factory is one that values longevity and skill, with management clear that they could not do their work without retaining their current workforce.
“We do what we can to keep our workers through whatever life events and health issues they are facing, and the proof of this is in the 40+ and 50+ year longevity of many of our workers,” said Luis Nava, Director of Operations at the Long Island City facility.
Specific Age Smart Policies & Practices
• The factory advertises positions in local newspapers in several different languages to recruit people who did this type of work in their home countries, attracting a very diverse workforce.
• They most typically hire through a referral program that pays current employees – mostly older – a bonus of $250-500.
• The facility gets lists from factories that are closing and calls to hire their employees, retaining their working relationships.
• When the productivity of an older worker has slowed down, a supervisor will redistribute work to another member of the team and restructure the employee’s role. Several workers have been taken off the production line and have been given custom work.
PHYSICAL WORK ENVIRONMENT
• The big windows, quality overall lighting and individual lighting at work stations, along with fatigue mats in the facility provide a healthier work environment than many other factories.
• Engineers work with employees to help them adjust to new equipment designs and processes, involving them in piloting and rolling out new recommendations. Workers are often asked for input on how processes can be improved.
• Everyone in the factory has the option to sit while they work, if they choose.
• People from many different countries are working at the factory, so all supervisors know at least two languages and employees are paid to serve as translators, even on a spontaneous, informal basis.
• English as a Second Language classes are offered free-of-charge to employees and one-hour of the two-hours they spend in class is paid for as work time.
FLEXIBILITY IN SCHEDULING
• Every employee is given 1400 minutes a year off to use however they want, usually for things that come up unexpectedly. Proactive cross-training allows for this flexibility not traditionally offered in the factory environment.
• “Tyler Hughes” benefit allows Brooks Brothers employees to donate time and money to a fund that other employees can use when in need of financial assistance as a result of an emergency hardship.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR RETIREES
• Retired tailors are called back during the factory’s busy times –- because equivalent experience is hard to find and they know the workplace culture and processes so well.