LOS ANGELES — Frustration and anger with American Apparel management among a large contingent of former and current factory workers gained steam last week via rallies and new lawsuits.
A gathering, organized by the General Brotherhood of Workers of American Apparel union, brought a life-sized piñata of chief executive officer Paula Schneider to outside American Apparel headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. It was a symbolic move decrying what workers allege to be mismanagement of the troubled company by New York hedge fund Standard General and the current executive team, led by Schneider.
The piñata was eventually broken to reveal chocolate coins and play money as a means of illustrating larger concerns workers have been gathering about regularly, which include reduced hours, lost wages, layoffs and in some cases, what they have claimed are illegal firings.
“[Use of] the piñata was only because…pretty much all the members of the union are from the Latin community, so it’s traditional. It’s part of their culture and since Paula said in Elle magazine that she just closed her curtains [to protestors outside] we wanted something visual. She needed to acknowledge that and that’s why we needed a strong image,” said Stephanie Padilha dos Santos, who was earlier this month elected union president. She worked as a visual merchandiser at the retailer up until her firing last month.
The group followed up that demonstration on Friday with a rally outside of American Apparel’s Melrose Avenue store and is expected to gather once again this Saturday outside of the Hollywood and Highland shopping center location.
“All the workers feel very marginalized by this new management,” Padilha dos Santos said. “We’re not asking the customers to boycott the brand at all because we love the company so much. We want it to succeed.”
A call and email to American Apparel general counsel, executive vice president and secretary Chelsea Grayson, were not immediately returned Monday.
Workers had rallied around former ceo and founder Dov Charney when he was officially fired late last year and replaced with Schneider, who was charged with turning around the ailing company. However, the business has continued to struggle, leading to chatter of a possible bankruptcy.
Charney had earlier been highly visible at such rallies but his participation has since diminished. Meantime, the workers, led by the union, continue to increase the pressure on their own. Nearly 3,000 garment workers have signed on for the union and they regularly gather Wednesdays outside of the company’s headquarters as well as Saturdays in Los Angeles.
Fresh terminations appear to continue fueling the rallies.
Aside from Padilha dos Santos, distribution center worker Esmeralda Morales and merchandiser Maks Aktar both claim they were terminated without cause this month and lawsuits are expected.
Legal complaints continue at a steady pace, with new ones filed Thursday and Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court. The four lawsuits allege wrongful termination and breach of contract against American Apparel by former employees Iris Alonzo, the creative director who worked for a decade at the company until mid-2014. She was later brought back that same year and then dismissed in February. The other complaints filed last week are from Tokiko Myashiro, who helped grow the company’s store count in the U.S. and Japan; Cho Yee Ng, a former retail director of domestic and Australian markets and model featured in company ads, and Jan Willem Hubner, who served as director of retail standards and store compliance up until his April termination.
The company has claimed in previously released statements on other lawsuits that the complaints are merit-less ploys for publicity.