UNITE SUES CALIF. ON STORE EXEMPTION FROM ANTI-SWEATSHOP REQUIREMENTS
Byline: Kristi Ellis
LOS ANGELES — UNITE and two other organizations have filed suit against the state of California, challenging a memorandum issued by the labor commissioner that allegedly exempts retailers engaged in manufacturing private label clothes through contractors in the state from registration and other anti-sweatshop laws.
The other plaintiffs are Sweatshop Watch, a group of labor and community organizations, and the Asian Law Caucus, a civil rights and legal services organization. The suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, seeks to nullify the internal memorandum, which was issued by acting state labor commissioner Roberta Mendonca last October.
The plaintiffs say that the memorandum also excludes retailers from being held jointly liable for violations of labor laws committed by their contractors and having their garments confiscated for failure to comply with registration requirements.
The suit charges that the memorandum violates the California Administrative Procedure Act and conflicts with the state statute governing garment manufacturing.
“Retailers competing against California jobbers should be subject to the same anti-sweatshop abatement laws,” said Steve Nutter, vice president of UNITE, in a statement announcing the suit.
A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled in January 1996 that catalog retailer J. Crew must register as a garment manufacturer in California because it did business with contractors in the state, one of which was cited for overtime violations.
State investigators seized 31 J. Crew garments, charging that the firm was by definition an unregistered manufacturer and must pay the $185 registration fee.
But after J. Crew appealed, according to the UNITE suit, the state abandoned the case before it was heard. J. Crew is still not registered as a manufacturer in California.
A state Department of Industrial Relations spokesman said that the agency had not seen the lawsuit and was not prepared to comment.
A spokesman for J. Crew in New York said the company also declined to comment, noting “the matter is closed.”
The suit also alleges that the memorandum is unlawful and void because it constitutes a regulatory change and is subject to public notice and comment provisions.