Production workers at American Apparel Inc. in downtown Los Angeles will now receive paid holidays, a first for the company.

In a letter to employees Friday, Chief Executive Paula Schneider said the company will give workers paid time off on New Year’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Independence Day, which this year will be celebrated on July 3. The new policy applies to full-time production personnel, not employees at American Apparel’s retail stores. About 70 percent of the company’s 10,000 employees will be eligible.

Schneider, who replaced ouster founder and former chief executive Dov Charney, said production employees are not paid for holidays currently, although the staff is paid for taking time off depending on the amount of time they have worked for the company. That will continue, she said.

The company had previously told employees they will now be eligible for three days of paid sick leave a year. The company added that benefit to comply with a new California law that takes effect in July.

In her letter Friday, Schneider said both the sick leave and holiday pay “are being offered for the first time in American Apparel’s history” – a statement perhaps meant to push back against some workers’ recent complaints that workers have been treated poorly since Schneider took over for Charney.

American Apparel in April started laying off 180 workers, primarily in production jobs. And workers have recently expressed concerns over furloughs and reduced hours, and have organized a group that is pushing for union representation for American Apparel employees. The group formed with the help of Hermandad Mexicana, a Santa Ana non-profit that advocates for immigrants’ rights, and with support from Charney.

But Schneider said the impetus for adding holiday and sick pay is that she wants to get the company’s employee benefits in line with those of other companies, and to comply with the new state law.

“We’re changing the way we are doing business,” Schneider said. “Not having holidays off for people isn’t the right thing to do.”

She also said the recent changes are part of a larger plan to add benefits for workers. A 401(k) plan is also in the works.

“This is something I’ve been working on since I started in January and I’ve been working at understanding what benefits employees have,” Schneider said.

Seventeen-year veteran employee and sewing manager Jeremias Pablo said he was surprised to hear that his staff – he oversees 2,000 full-time sewers – will now be paid for holidays. Some employees will still have to work on holidays to keep production going, but they will be able to take another day off to make up for it, a system referred to as floating holidays.

“I believe that all the sewers are going to be excited about that,” Pablo said.

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