ROWLEY AGREES TO MONITOR CONTRACTORS ON WAGES PAID
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — The Labor Department said Tuesday that New York designer Cynthia Rowley has signed an agency agreement to monitor her contractors for compliance with federal wage laws.
An agency sweep of the garment industry last fall found one Rowley contractor, also producing for other manufacturers, had underpaid workers.
After finding errant contractors, Labor officials typically ask manufacturers to sign non-binding agreements to start monitoring their contractors.
Rowley, along with Printmakers International Ltd. and Turn On Products, both located in New York, were the only ones to agree to monitoring programs out of the 21 manufacturers contacted about contractors violating labor laws.
In all, the sweep, conducted from mid-November to mid-December, found nine New York contractors with wage violations amounting to $41,262 owed to 150 workers.
“We thought it made good business sense to sign the agreement to be sure our contractors are abiding by the law,” said Michael Bruno, vice president of Rowley’s firm. Officials at Printmakers and Turn On Products could not be reached for comment.
More than 70 apparel makers have entered into Labor-prescribed monitoring agreements since the agency began focusing on the garment industry during the last year of the Bush administration.
Most of these are in the Los Angeles area. Only six manufacturers in New York City have signed on to Labor’s program, including the three brought on board after last fall’s sweep.
After a sweep of Los Angeles garment contractors conducted in October, the agency also announced Tuesday, three manufacturers agreed to undertake monitoring programs. A total of 91 manufacturers were contacted after the sweep found 25 violative contractors owing $230,000 in back wages to 473 workers.
The Los Angeles manufacturers that signed up for monitoring are Pacific Continental Textile, Just for Wraps and Tapestry.
Officials at Just for Wraps were already interviewing private monitoring companies when Labor officials told them about one of their contractors underpaying its workers.
The junior apparel maker, which works with 10 to 12 contractors, now pays $400 a month per contractor to a monitoring service.
“There is no way an independent manufacturer can know what’s going on in these shops,” said Rakesh Lal, executive vice president at Just for Wraps.Officials at Pacific Continental Textile and Tapestry could not be reached.
As part of their New York and Los Angeles sweeps, the agency notified Los Angeles retailers Wet Seal and Hub Distributing that they had received apparel produced at some of the contractors found to be underpaying workers.
Agency officials argue manufacturers, as well as retailers, have the power to control conditions at sewing contractors because they hold sway over the price and other terms of business and therefore can dictate compliance with labor laws.
Acting Labor Secretary Cynthia Metzler said the two strike forces reveal there’s still a long way to go to stamp out sweatshops.
“One of the things we’re distressed at is there are still so many violations,” Metzler said.