Nearly 100 Sewing Jobs Saved in Olive Hill, Ky.

By: Randy Yohe Email
By: Randy Yohe Email

OLIVE HILL, Ky. (WSAZ) -- The fight to keep about 100 sewing jobs at a small local factory had gone national -- and viral.

The threat came from the federal prison system and the inmates who would take the jobs.

President Obama and his flight jacket were caught in the middle -- until an abrupt change of the federal heart.

Working the sewing machines at Ashland Sales and Service off and on since she was 19, Kim Duncan fears the federal prison system. It is challenging her company's contract (since 1997) to make Air Force flight jackets.

Duncan says it would challenge the rare ability around the Olive Hill area to earn a living wage where flex-time hours help women get the children to the doctor and buy the groceries and still sew.

“I think these jobs should be done by people not in jail,” Duncan said.

Plant Manager C.J. Barker added; “Mostly it’s for the women of the county. We supply all the jobs basically for the county and surrounding counties.”

The Federal Bureau of Prison folks say it's up to the Air Force to choose the contract winner. That decision goes to the Defense Logistics Agency that says federal statute mandates the federal agency gets the contract. That is providing it can match the private company's manufacturing quality.

On Thursday, garment company president Michael Mansh went on FOX News to say losing the contract to make the jacket the Commander in Chief wears on Air Force One could shut down the plant.

“The federal prison industry needs additional work, and they're choosing to take it away form my workers," Mansh said. "We'd like President Obama to come to Olive Hill and meet with our workers and see what it takes to make his jacket."

Late Friday afternoon, Federal Prison Industries announced it would not pursue the Olive Hill garment contract "due to the potential adverse effect on private sector business."

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