Byline: Vicki M. Young

NEW YORK — Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R., Mich.) has renewed his request to Manhattan Bankruptcy Judge Cornelius Blackshear for access to sealed documents in the Mademoiselle Knitwear case before the judge.
Last Monday, Blackshear denied the request but left open the possibility of reconsideration if a request were to come from the “full Committee.”
Hoekstra chairs the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The subcommittee is working on a study called “American Worker at a Crossroads Project,” looking into the adequacy of current labor law.
Friday’s request has the full support of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. William Goodling (R., Pa.), according to a letter to Blackshear sent Friday by Goodling and Hoekstra.
The letter tells Blackshear that the study includes an “investigation…into the practices of the [apparel workers union UNITE] and its predecessors.” A key element is the issue of liquidated damages, penalties paid to UNITE when vendors organized under union contracts use non-union production.
Of concern, the Congressmen wrote, is that “special garment industry language in the National Labor Relations Act may be allowing the union that represents the majority of these garment workers to collect enormous income for itself while providing little or no service to its displaced members.”
The papers, they say, may provide “critical documentation of an often criticized practice whereby UNITE and its predecessors have allegedly misused provisions in the National Labor Relations Act to develop a private profit scheme that was never intended by Congress.”
The Mademoiselle case involves a multitude of lawsuits between the knitwear contractor, its former customer Liz Claiborne Inc. and UNITE. Mademoiselle has charged that liquidated damages, amounting to millions, paid to UNITE by Claiborne constituted a bribe to allow Claiborne to drop its obligations to provide work to Mademoiselle. Claiborne has countered that the payments were legal and pursuant to union contracts, which had nothing to do with its decision to drop Mademoiselle.
“We have reason to believe that these materials may also be critical to an understanding of the National Labor Relations Board’s enforcement practices in general, and its decision to take no action against UNITE despite the failure of the union to represent its members that were employed by Mademoiselle Knitwear,” the letter continued.
Goodling’s committee has NLRB oversight.
The letter further informed Blackshear that the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan “has no objection to our request for access to these materials.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is also investigating the payments to UNITE, received the documentation in December.
In closing, the representatives reminded Blackshear of Goodling’s subpoena power. Under House Rules, Goodling has the authority to issue a subpoena for the information should requests be denied.

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