Los Angeles Apparel, founded by Dov Charney, was ordered by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to suspend its operations after more than 300 workers contracted the coronavirus and four died.
According to health officials, three of the COVID-19-related deaths occurred in the beginning of June, and one was in early July. The outbreak is among the largest at a workplace reported so far in the U.S.
In a statement Friday night, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said it initially closed down operations at the South L.A. garment manufacturer on June 27 after inspectors found “flagrant violations” of public health infection control orders and the company’s failure to cooperate with an investigation of a reported coronavirus outbreak. On Thursday, the department ordered the continued suspension of Los Angeles Apparel’s operations.
“The death of four dedicated garment workers is heartbreaking and tragic,” said Barbara Ferrer, county Public Health Director, in a statement. “Business owners and operators have a corporate, moral and social responsibility to their employees and their families to provide a safe work environment that adheres to all of the health office directives — this responsibility is important, now more than ever as we continue to fight this deadly virus.”
According to the health department statement, a health-care provider notified Los Angeles Apparel on June 19 of a potential outbreak. As part of its investigation, health officials asked Los Angeles Apparel for a list of all employees that it could then compare to testing results that the department had received. The health department said the company failed to provide the list after numerous requests. During a site visit June 26, the health department said inspectors found multiple violations of social distancing requirements and infection control protocols. In early July, health officials said they received an “incomplete” list of company employees and that the company had reopened with new employees in violation of its order.
At this time, Los Angeles Apparel is under orders to remain closed until they can show that the facility is in full compliance with public health mandates.
Over the last few months, 85 percent of the company’s operations has been making masks.
Reached for comment on Saturday, Charney told WWD that he’s been working cooperatively with most of the people but “the county has attacked me.”
“They ambushed me with these crazy things. I think it’s counterproductive. We have obeyed every order, and we’ve provided all the information,” Charney said. He said he’s determined to keep the facility open, and noted that he goes in every day. There are three buildings that have a similar spread. He noted that most of the people who contracted the virus were asymptomatic. The factory employs 1,700 to 1,800 people at any given time.
“The four deaths are horrifying. There have been a lot of deaths in the community we’re in. There’s going to be more. The city is preparing for a massive re-spike,” said Charney, the former chief executive officer of American Apparel.
He denied that he withheld any information, and said there’s a lot of misinformation out there.
“We want to clarify that we have taken every measure possible to protect our employees from COVID-19,” said Charney in a formal statement. “From the onset of the virus and much prior to masks being recommended or mandated, all Los Angeles Apparel employees have been wearing masks. We have enforced social distancing requirements, spacing machines and break areas by 6 feet or more apart. We have set up hand sanitizer and disinfectant stations throughout the factory.”
According to Charney, they test each employee and visitor’s temperature and dispense hand sanitizer before they are permitted to enter the facilities. “We have enforced routine cleaning and disinfecting of workstations and equipment. We have installed facial recognition time clocks to reduce the amount of surfaces that employees have to touch throughout the day. For five weeks we have been testing employees for COVID-19 repeatedly.”
Charney added, “As a result of repeated testing, we have been able to identify individuals that test positive so that they can quarantine, as suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The illnesses and loss of life amongst our team and the community are absolutely heartbreaking.
“Contrary to the health department’s official report, we provided the information on employee infection rates and positive/negative test results as soon as we could. At no time did we withhold any data — the data that the health department requested sometimes took a few days to procure because it relied on us obtaining private information from employees, which we needed consent and confirmation from them to release. In fact, prior to being contacted by the health department, we proactively approached their offices to alert them about the rates of infection amongst our employees, the vast majority of whom are Latino. We recognized that this was perhaps an indicator of a potentially larger issue that wasn’t being addressed by the public sector,” he said.
Charney noted that a health-care clinic that serves the local community in South Los Angeles, where Los Angeles Apparel’s factory is located, tested 7,000 people between April 15 and June 30, with 1,050 testing positive. “This 15 percent positive rate is similarly reflected in the testing of our employees. Of approximately 2,100 employees tested between April 15 and June 30, 300 had positive results,” he noted.
“The infection rates and positive test results amongst our employees are a reflection of a larger system issue in Los Angeles: that of a health-care system and government that does little to address serious, historical and perpetual racial inequities that have been violently brought to light during COVID-19,” said Charney. He noted that the Los Angeles Times recently reported that the Latino community is twice as likely to contract COVID-19 and the rate of infection is steeper amongst Latinos.
“It is morally irresponsible for the health department to speak of the infection rates at our factory without also addressing its connection to the issue at large: that the Latino community in Los Angeles is more vulnerable to COVID-19 in a health-care system that has provided unclear paths for non-English speakers being tested and little instruction for those that test positive. At that time, we raised our concerns to the health department and requested help with routine testing that we were already helping to conduct independently. They instead chose to mandate a closure of our factory,” said Charney.
Charney said, “We absolutely respect the order to remain closed, and want to be clear that we reopened with written permission from the health department who later changed their position. We did not reopen against their order. We understand that the health department is facing numerous challenges with regard to the public response to mandates; we are sure this is not easy and will support any directive that can reduce the number of cases in Los Angeles and our community.”
Charney said he’s determined to do “anything in our power” to provide continued support for its employees and is happy to make any investment necessary to keep them safe at work. “But we are deeply disappointed at the fact that the larger issue affecting the Latino community is not being efficiently addressed and managed by local government officials. These are our colleagues, our family and friends being affected and we want to protect them.”
As reported in WWD last month, Charney’s factories came under fire for COVID. They were operating multiple daily shifts since L.A. enacted its Safer at Home order in March, making personal protective equipment for the U.S. government and local hospitals. Charney rearranged his factory floors, conducted temperature checks during the day and provided masks to workers. But the Garment Worker Center reported several employees described a lack of social distancing and sanitizing practices, and two tested positive for COVID-19. The organization had been demanding more thorough cleaning of the factories, regular testing and contact tracing. Charney said last month that his factories did follow social distancing guidelines. He has installed time clocks that didn’t require touching, reconfigured machines to be six feet apart with dividers between them, passed out hand sanitizer several times during the day, and has been cooperating with city inspectors.
“We just passed an audit by Cal OSHA, I don’t know what higher authority there is. If the Garment Worker Center wants to make a visit, they can. We haven’t heard from them,” said Charney last month. “And we are arranging testing. We have to do it one by one and work with local clinics,” he said, adding that one of his factories has been temporarily closed. “This is about community spread. We are spending an enormous amount of money trying to do this right, we have sick pay, we are allowing people to work from home. And our workers are earning up to $30 an hour and overtime. We are doing the best we can to protect people and create prosperity for them,” said Charney.
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