COURT REFUSES TO UNSEAL MADEMOISELLE PAPERS
Byline: Joyce Barrett
WASHINGTON — U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Cornelius Blackshear has denied a request by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R., Mich.) for sealed documents pertaining to the bitter dispute involving Mademoiselle Knitwear, a union contractor; Liz Claiborne Inc., and UNITE.
In an order that he issued on June 8, Blackshear did not give a reason for his denial other than to say that his court, where Mademoiselle is in Chapter 11 proceedings, “is primarily concerned with maintaining the sanctity of the confidentiality agreement and the fidelity of the case.”
Hoekstra sought access to the documents as part of a congressional probe he is leading into the adequacy of U.S. labor law.
A key element in the Mademoiselle controversy consists of multimillion-dollar payments made by Claiborne to UNITE under the practice of liquidated damages — penalties paid by union manufacturers to UNITE when they turn to nonunion production — and the issue of liquidated damages has become a focal point in Hoekstra’s investigation.
Mademoiselle has charged that the payments constituted a bribe to UNITE in order to allow Claiborne, which was Mademoiselle’s largest customer, to get out of its obligations to do business with Mademoiselle.
Claiborne has countered that these payments had nothing to do with Mademoiselle and that they were made under the legal provisions of contracts with UNITE.
Hoekstra is undecided on whether he will subpoena the documents, which he could do in exercising constitutionally granted congressional oversight authority.
In a statement, Hoekstra said that he would “continue to seek the information by whatever means are available to us.”
One option available to him would be to hold a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which he chairs, and subpoena witnesses to testify. Hoekstra plans meetings shortly with his staff to consider options and next action, an aide said.
In his probe of labor law, Hoekstra has focused attention on the apparel industry because of complaints about sweatshops and the alleged lack of protection given garment workers even when they are unionized.
He has had several congressional hearings, the most recent one in Los Angeles last month, and had tentatively set another hearing on June 18 here to hear from UNITE. That hearing has been postponed, though, and a date has not been set, congressional aides said, although Hoekstra still plans to invite UNITE to testify before his panel.
“We want to make sure we have all our information together before we have another hearing,” an aide said.