Historical records of 1990 mass layoff donated to UTSA special collections

Fuerza Unida lives on, aiding displaced workers, families, group members say

The history of the 1990 mass layoffs, where more than 1,100 San Antonio women employed by Levi Strauss & Co. were fired, will be shared next year through photos, documents, and memorabilia donated to the University of Texas at San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – The history of the 1990 mass layoffs, where more than 1,100 San Antonio women employed by Levi Strauss & Co. were fired, will be shared next year through photos, documents, and memorabilia donated to the University of Texas at San Antonio library’s special collections.

“I was thrilled,” said Dean Hendrix, the dean of libraries at UTSA, who studied Mexican-American Studies at UT Austin. Hendrix said he was aware of the layoffs, protests and hunger strikes that followed.

“There was a global corporation who treated them as if they were disposable,” Hendrix said.

Despite that fact, Hendrix said, the women joined forces to create Fuerza Unida.

“They didn’t take it sitting down,” Hendrix said. “They fought for justice.”

He said the donation of 20 boxes of materials documenting their fight for severance pay and the benefits they were owed, met the collection’s criteria.

“It fits so great along with our other collections, like Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, COPS, Metro Alliance, La Raza Unida, the UFW, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, and I could go on and on and on,” Hendrix said.

Hendrix said he believes the Fuerza Unida Collection, which will be available for viewing and study next year, will help UTSA Libraries achieve its goal of becoming “the pre-eminent library documenting the Mexican-American experience.”

Eventually, Levi-Strauss and Co. gave the 1,150 women their three months of severance pay, but Hendrix said they didn’t leave it at that.

Hendrix said the organization became a social justice nonprofit, helping their members and other displaced workers and their families.

“COVID-19, oh, my God. It’s out of the blue,” said Petra Mata, a co-founder of Fuerza Unida. “A lot of people need a lot, a lot of services from us.”

Mata said Fuerza Unida has monthly food distributions, a youth program returning this summer, and a sewing project where Fuerza Unida seamstresses are contracted to fill a variety of orders.

However, she said, Fuerza Unida still relies on fundraising and donations.

According to Mata, community members use Fuerza Unida as a resource for information, direction and advice.

After all, Mata said, the community knows what she and the other workers went through at the time.

“We have the experience,” Mata said. “Now we know how the system works.”

Hendrix said Fuerza Unida is creating a legacy by educating future activists to take on other issues such as “women’s rights, worker’s rights, Mexican-American civil rights, and ultimately, human rights.”

She said her advice for young activists starts with going to school. But also said to “find out what’s going on around you.”

“If you don’t like it, raise your voice and say something,” Mata said. “Ask questions because we never asked questions.”

Also important, she said, “respect yourself.”

Above all, she said, “be patient, but don’t give up.”

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About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.