A Los Angeles-based organization is highlighting alleged violations of garment workers’ rights amid a coronavirus outbreak at one of the city’s high-profile apparel factories.
The Garment Workers Center (GWC) claimed it has received multiple reports from workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 at Los Angeles Apparel—the manufacturer headed by former American Apparel chief Dov Charney.
The workers told GWC that amid widespread infections at the company’s three South L.A. factories, which each house over 100 employees, leadership has not implemented stringent or effective health and safety protocols. What’s more, GWC claimed that two workers who tested positive for the virus in late May have not been contacted by the company, and it is unclear whether paid leave will be offered to them.
“We just got another report from a worker today about Los Angeles Apparel,” GWC Marissa Nuncio told Sourcing Journal on Tuesday. “They’re telling us that they don’t believe there’s enough being done to keep people healthy,” she added.
Nuncio said the worker told her that physical distancing measures were not being enforced consistently. The factories’ work stations are set up in a modular fashion, making it hard to maintain proper spacing between employees, they told her.
“Another issue is that the facility is very open and vendors and new applicants come and go,” Nuncio added. “They identified that as a possible issue.”
According to Nuncio, the employees who contacted her said they were given little clarity about company’s paid sick leave policy. “We have received multiple calls and workers don’t know what their rights are” when they test positive for the coronavirus, she said.
In her dealings with Los Angeles Apparel on behalf of the two workers who tested positive in May, Nuncio said the company told GWC they required a doctor’s note from employees wishing to apply for paid sick leave.
However, the City of Los Angeles COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti on April 7, stipulates that employers “may not require a doctor’s note or other documentation for the use of supplemental paid sick leave.”
GWC’s correspondence with Los Angeles Apparel on behalf of its two employees included a request for response by June 17. Should the factory neglect to respond, Nuncio said, the claim will be filed with the state of California’s Labor Commissioner’s Office.
“Most of our wage claims are processed through there, and they are able to enforce the city’s public order on paid sick leave,” she said.
Charney insisted GWC’s memo and its claims, distributed in an email to the group’s members last Thursday, were “not credible.”
“They did not come to visit [the factories]—they have no idea,” Charney told Sourcing Journal Tuesday, adding that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) toured the facilities last week, along with the Los Angeles Health Department. “All audits as far as what we’re doing to comply, we’ve passed with flying colors.”
Charney admitted, however, that “dozens” of workers have tested positive in recent months, and have returned to work only after they recovered. “If someone gets sick and don’t come to work, and we don’t know that their absence is COVID-related, it may take some phone calls to fetter that out,” he said.
Charney did not respond to requests for comment regarding the company’s stance on requiring a doctor’s note to file a paid leave claim.
Los Angeles Apparel is following all of the city’s recommendations for physical distancing in its facilities, Charney said, including separating employees by at least six feet of distance, erecting cardboard barriers between work stations, and having all employees wear masks.
Temperature checks occur multiple times per day, he added, and any workers who test above the normal threshold are sent home immediately.
Los Angeles Apparel is also engaging in routine coronavirus testing for its workforce, with groups sent out weekly to be tested, Charney said.
“All of our workforce, if they test positive, we follow guidelines established by the City of Los Angeles where we pay their wages for two weeks,” he said. “If it’s longer there are special guidelines” that require companies to pay a portion of a worker’s hourly rate, he added, noting the company has not yet encountered a case where a worker was required to take more than two weeks of leave to recover.
“Garment workers are at a pretty high risk,” Nuncio said. GWC, she added, has fielded numerous calls from people across the city concerned with their employer’s protocols regarding social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing. “It’s a widespread problem, and the city needs to step up their enforcement activity.
“There’s a steep learning curve, and it’s a tough time,” she added. “This is one of thousands of factories in L.A., and this is not at all isolated to Los Angeles Apparel. They’re not an anomaly; this is a problem in the industry as a whole.”