NEW YORK — An additional $46,000 in restitution was paid last week to workers from two Chinatown factories that had shut down last year after state and federal labor authorities deemed the operation a sweatshop.
The funds were raised by Local 23-25 of UNITE in tandem with the U.S. Department of Labor, which had previously recovered about $100,000 in owed back wages directly from manufacturers that had sent orders to the union shop, including Land & Sea, a vendor that makes Kathie Lee apparel for Wal-Mart.
May Chen, assistant manager at Local 23-25, said once New York State Attorney General Dennis Vacco filed criminal charges last December against the owner of the factories, Lai Fong Yuen of Staten Island, the union and labor department pursued the right to sell off Yuen’s remaining assets to collect back wages for the workers.
More than 100 workers were employed by Yuen and are still owed about $150,000 in wages, according to Labor officials.
The union local got involved in this case because the business was a union shop, Chen said, adding that UNITE was unaware of the conditions that had been going on there.
She said most of the orders at the factories came from nonunion manufacturers, so UNITE could not control the pricing set on it.
“We trace the root of the problem to the industry,” Chen said. “But we’re also looking self-critically at our procedures. For those workers to have waited so long to notify us is very serious.”

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