Alexander Wang denied allegations that its factory in New York’s Chinatown was a “sweatshop,” and the company vowed to defend itself against a $450 million lawsuit brought by an ex-employee. Filed last month in Queens County Supreme Court, the lawsuit claims Wang violated New York State labor laws, including provisions covering overtime compensation and minimum wage.
This story first appeared in the March 7, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
A spokeswoman for the fashion brand, which has yet to be served with the legal papers, told WWD on Tuesday, “The company takes its obligations to comply with the law very seriously, including the relevant wage and hour regulations, the payment of overtime to eligible employees and having a safe working environment for all of our employees. We will vehemently defend any allegations to the contrary.”
Forcing employees to work 16-hour days without overtime in an unventilated, windowless 200-square-foot room with more than 15 other workers were among the charges hurled at Wang by ex-employee Wenyu Lu. His attorney said roughly 30 of his former co-workers were added to the case.
The plaintiffs are demanding $50 million for each of the suit’s nine charges, including labor law violations, breach of agreement and unjust enrichment.
Lu, who claimed to work 84 hours a week at the designer’s factory at 386 Broadway, said he suffered work-related illnesses, including an eye injury and kidney stones, which resulted in an emergency operation two years ago.
In one instance, the 56-year-old Lu alleged he passed out at his station after working 25 hours without a break. Ultimately, Lu, who started at the factory in 2008, was fired on Feb. 16 after complaining about the poor conditions and applying for worker’s compensation for injuries sustained on the job, his lawyer, Ming Hai, alleged.
“Bad labor conditions are everywhere in the Asian garment community. It’s horrible,” said Hai, noting that there are more than 20 garment factories in Chinatown.
“A lot of the workers are new immigrants and they don’t speak English,” he said. “They work long hours. It’s like a new kind of slavery.”
According to Hai, who regularly tries such employment law cases, most factory owners tend to settle the disputes for fear of bad press.