Crisis has struck one of Los Angeles’ well-known garment factories, where more than 300 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, resulting in four employee deaths.
The L.A. County Department of Public Health (DPH) ordered Dov Charney’s Los Angeles Apparel factories to shut down indefinitely after discovering “flagrant violations of mandatory public health infection control orders” on June 27. The garment manufacturer, it added, allegedly failed to comply with the agency’s investigation into the outbreak at its facilities.
On Friday, DPH mandated the “continuous” closure of the factories as it takes actions to ensure that it’s safe for workers to return.
According to the department, three of the deaths took place in early June, and one occurred in early July. A concerned healthcare provider tipped off DPH to the potential outbreak on June 19, and the department immediately opened an investigation into the claim. That week alone, Los Angeles Apparel reported 151 cases within its workforce.
DPH inspectors conducting a site visit on June 26 said they saw multiple violations of social-distancing requirements and infection-control protocols, such as installing cardboard barriers between workers. This visit solidified the department’s decision to shut down the plant. DPH said Los Angeles Apparel also failed to provide a full list of employees and their infection status to its investigators.
A week later on July 4, DPH said the company provided an incomplete list of employees showing 198 positive COVID-19 cases reported. The department compared the list against results provided to DPH by reporting laboratories, and determined that as of July 10, more than 300 coronavirus cases had occurred at the facility.
DPH sent a letter to Los Angeles Apparel on July 7 informing the company that it could only open to employees who had tested positive on or before June 26, and who had been fever-free for three days without the use of medication and presented no other symptoms. However, the Health Officer Order that shuttered operations was still in place at this point.
According to DPH, Los Angeles Apparel violated that order by reopening with new employees. The department said it learned of the reopening when it visited the site and the company attempted to deny entry to its inspectors. On July 9, DPH issued a directive ordering the factory to cease operations.
In an interview Saturday, Charney denied the DPH’s allegations.
“We have done everything we could to prevent any outbreak of COVID-19 in our factory,” he told Sourcing Journal, adding that the garment producer was an early adopter on mask-wearing and temperature screenings, even importing advanced temperature-taking devices from Korea and installing facial-recognition time clocks to reduce the surfaces employees have to touch throughout the day. Charney said an independent consultant who told him the virus could not survive long on surfaces had recommended cardboard barriers.
“There is a spike in cases in the community, and we’re seeing the spread here is similar to the rates seen in the adjacent clinic,” he added. According to Charney, the company’s local clinic has reported a 15 percent rate of infection across the city’s general population, and that rate is commensurate with the numbers seen at Los Angeles Apparel.
Charney also insisted that worker infections could not be exclusively attributed to conditions at his factories. “You have to understand the density of the housing that people are living in,” he said. “People are dying every day—there’s a death toll that’s devastating to everyone. We can’t control what people do outside of the factory, it’s a free society.”
Los Angeles Apparel complied with the DPH officers who came to inspect its facilities, Charney said, denying the department’s allegations that the company attempted to bar their entry. He also said the factories have been engaged in near-weekly testing of workers, and volunteered the results of those tests to the DPH without prompting.
“We did not conceal the cases from them—in fact, it was the opposite,” he said. “We’ve been doing everything we can in following protocols.”
Charney said he was looking into augmenting the factories’ ventilation systems because of the World Health Organization’s recent confirmation that the virus can be spread by airborne particles. “To say this company was derelict is not fair at all,” he said.
In a statement Friday, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, described the garment workers’ deaths as “heartbreaking and tragic.”
“Business owners and operators have a corporate, moral and social responsibility to their employees and their families to provide a safe work environment that adheres to all of the health officer directives—this responsibility is important, now more than ever, as we continue to fight this deadly virus,” she said.
Ferrer went on to say that the safety of employees and their families is of paramount importance to DPH, and the department will continue to monitor the work sites of manufacturers like Los Angeles Apparel moving forward. “Our department is moving to accelerate our response to these situations, and we need the full cooperation of the business community to do so,” she said.
Marissa Nuncio, director of the Garment Worker Center (GWC), a L.A.-based organization advocating for the rights of the city’s apparel industry workforce, said she hoped the situation would raise awareness of the urgent need to protect workers amid the spread of the pandemic.
Workers should “know they have rights,” Nuncio said in a statement, encouraging workers to call the DPH’s hotline to report unsafe conditions.
In June, the GWC told Sourcing Journal it had received a multitude of complaints from Los Angeles Apparel workers, who told the organization they felt unsafe at the factories. The company was not enforcing physical distancing protocols consistently, or maintaining proper spacing between employees, they claimed.
Dozens of workers had fallen ill in June, Nuncio said at the time, and the GWC was representing two workers who tested positive for the virus but had not received sick leave pay.
Los Angeles Apparel, in a statement, said it will comply with the shutdown order, citing the public-safety imperative.
“We will absolutely respect the order to remain closed, and understand that the Health Department is facing numerous challenges with regard to the public response to mandates; we are sure this is not easy and will support any directive that can reduce the number of cases in Los Angeles,” it said. “However, we also hope to see action from the government at large to address inequities that are disproportionately affecting the Latino community.”