New York looks for ways to mend its fraying garment industry. Clothing factory workers wonder if they'll still have jobs tomorrow

Sylvia Morales is a well-dressed, middle-class Latino who has not forgotten her roots. ``I am a lucky one,'' says Mrs. Morales, a samplemaker for College Town in New York's garment district. ``I was lucky enough to leave the factories.'' Mrs. Morales, whose job is year-round rather than seasonal, talked with this reporter at one of the local shops of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.

She started to work in the garment industry when she came from Puerto Rico as a teen-ager in 1958. At that time she made about $32 a week, ``before taxes.'' Now Mrs. Morales, whose husband works for the city, makes $15,000 a year. She took some time off to raise their three children, but she is happy to be working again.

``I'm proud of my work,'' says Mrs. Morales, who lives in Brooklyn but works in Manhattan. ``Oh, yes. I didn't know how to sew when I started in a factory.''

She says there is a lot of uncertainty about jobs in the garment district now. And many workers -- mostly low-skilled, minority women -- are concerned about their jobs as companies close down or move elsewhere.

Sixta Precups is out of work right now. Her last two jobs ended when factories closed. ``I'm looking for work,'' says Mrs. Precups, a widow from Puerto Rico. ``It's very hard now.''

Isabel Mendoza is a floor worker, checking dresses and skirts for damage. She says she makes $5.70 a hour. But Mrs. Mendoza, who came from El Salvador 16 years ago, works only two to three days a week.

Puro Ortiz Garcia says she loves her work as a machine operator making athletic shirts and pants. She earns $189 a week.

``Now is bad,'' says Mrs. Garcia, who lives in the Bronx with her husband, Delio, a doorman. ``There are no jobs now.''

Mr. Garcia, who is waiting for her at the union shop, agrees. ``Imports are ruining this country,'' he says.

Some of these women have worked many years. Margarita Marin and a friend, Olga Brava, hold up their hands to show the wear of years of toil on the machines. Mrs. Marin, who came from Argentina, is happy to be retired.

``I exercise, I swim,'' she says, demonstrating with her arms.

Lydia Cotto remembers when jobs were plentiful after the World War II. ``Bosses used to give you $2 for each person you brought in,'' says Mrs. Cotto, who works in a factory making pants and shirts. She makes less than $6,000 a year, because the work is seasonal.

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