REICH STRESSES LABOR DEPT.’S PROGRESS IN CRACKDOWN ON NEW YORK SWEATSHOPS
Byline: Dianne M. Pogoda
NEW YORK — The U.S. Labor Department has recovered $100,000 in back wages for area garment workers in the past month and is preventing finished goods from shipping until another $100,000 in wage violations is satisfied.
Dramatically underscoring his agency’s sweatshop crackdown, Labor Secretary Robert Reich announced these results of the latest round of raids on garment shops in the New York metropolitan area Thursday morning at a press conference in front of the statue of the garment worker on Seventh Avenue at 39th Street. Investigators found wage and overtime violations in 18 of 32 contractor shops they visited. Nearly 500 workers were found to have been underpaid by $200,000.
So far, Reich said, nine of the 18 contractors have provided back pay, and goods from those shops are being shipped. Goods from the other nine contractors will not be shipped until the back wages are paid.
“Goods produced in sweatshops will not be sent across any interstate lines,” he said. “We are enforcing that law. Manufacturers that had counted on these goods will not be getting them.”
He was referring to the “hot goods” provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, under which products made in violation of labor laws cannot be delivered.
Reich said deplorable working conditions that existed in the garment industry at the turn of the century are back because of enormous pressure, throughout “the entire food chain of the apparel industry, from retailers to manufacturers to contractors to subcontractors, to reduce costs. Some unscrupulous contractors are becoming competitive by imposing Third World conditions on their workers,” he said.
“This crackdown on sweatshops will continue,” he added. “We are going to penalize, get back pay and prevent shipment of these goods.”
The Labor Department has added three local investigators to police contractors, bringing the number to four, since August, when prison-like conditions were found in a sewing factory in El Monte, Calif. That incident ignited the department’s recent campaign against sweatshops across the country.
Reich reiterated that the department will continue to urge major retailers and manufacturers to take responsibility for the conditions under which goods they sell are made. On Dec. 5, as reported, Labor will release its “Trendsetters” list of retailers and manufacturers “that have taken extra efforts to prevent sweatshops, and reliance on sweatshops.”
“We hope that American consumers — who, by the way, in a recent survey, overwhelmingly said they would prefer to buy goods not made in sweatshops — use their power in making buying decisions to encourage retailers and manufacturers, particularly big ones with bargaining leverage, to use that leverage to stop sweatshops in America,” Reich said.
“There is no way, with the limited enforcement resources that we have, that government can do it all,” he added. “The private sector should step up to the plate. Big retailers and manufacturers have enormous clout in this food chain. We know that there are some big retailers who go into cutting and sewing shops inspecting for quality, for durability, to make sure they’re going to get what they ordered. Why can’t they also inspect to make sure that these people are not being treated like animals?”