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Winter 2002 CalBusiness  
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Building a Committed Workforce

Peter Haas learned to make the now legendary 501(r) jeans at San Francisco's Valencia Street factory. He also learned the operational side of the business and came to appreciate the people working on the front lines. "It was a wonderful experience," Haas recalled in his oral history.

His father Walter Haas, Sr., and Daniel Koshland gave jobs to many refugees that had escaped the Holocaust in Germany. Grateful for the opportunity, these new employees not only worked hard and treated the company's property and resources as if they were their own, they also helped to foster LS&CO.'s growing reputation as an employer that does right by its employees and its community.

"It was just a part of the fiber of their being," Haas said about his father and his uncle's humanity, "to care about people and to treat them responsibly and as generously as one can in a competitive business."

As Walter Haas, Sr., and Dan Koshland gradually handed the company reins over to Peter and Walter Jr., the brothers had ample opportunity to prove their business leadership long before they officially took over the business in 1958.

In the mid-1940s, LS&CO. built a new plant in Vallejo, a California shipyard town with a largely African-American workforce. Peter Haas, who made the daily trip to Vallejo to supervise the construction of the plant, recognized an opportunity to integrate the new plant. He hired 3 African Americans among his first 15 hires.

In the 1950s, LS&CO. started to integrate its plants in the South. Peter Haas traveled to Blackstone, Virginia, to announce the news to the city fathers. He told them that LS&CO. wanted to integrate its plants but that it did not want to dictate its policies to the city. "If you don't want it, we won't do it," he remembers saying to Blackstone's leadership. "But we won't continue operating here."

The Blackstone city leaders tried to negotiate several compromises, such as a separating wall between white and black, or at least a separating line down the plant floor. They tried to insist on segregated bathrooms and drinking fountains, but LS&CO held firm. Soon after, LS&CO integrated its second southern plant in Warsaw, Virginia, and after that integrated plants became standard policy for the company - before the Civil Rights legislation in 1964.

Peter Haas' leadership role in creating equal opportunities for minorities also led to his appointment to San Francisco's Fair Employment Practices Commission, the first in the state of California.

Read more:

Building a Legacy
Building a Committed Workforce
501s Go Global
Sharing with the Community

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