American Apparel’s Wrinkles

EDITOR’S NOTE: In These Times, one of our
primary sources for this article, has published two corrections to
its story.
Utne regrets the errors.

  1. American Apparel was not charged with any labor violations as a
    result of the complaint that UNITE filed with the National Labor
    Relations Board. As part of a no-contest settlement, the company
    voluntarily posted a notice informing workers that it would not
    interfere with their rights to organize.
  2. The quotes from Jane magazine are incorrect; they were
    sourced from an article in NYU’s student paper,
    Washington
    Square News
    . The Jane article is now available
    online.
    The

    domestic violence
    quote appeared in the Concordia University
    student paper,

    The Link
    . According to Charney, he never spoke to the
    reporter from The Link.

We regret these errors.


There’s been some bad news for socially conscious fashionistas
of late. The beloved clothing company American Apparel has been
sullied by accusations of sexual harassment against founder and CEO
Dov Charney. And the manufacturer’s racy ad campaigns of scantily
clad young women have turned off many customers who love the
sweatshop-free label, but aren’t down with misogyny.

But another set of complaints is taking aim at the heart of the
company’s progressive credentials — fair labor practices. Writing
in
In
These Times
, Ari Paul
accuses Charney of going on a
‘union-busting blitzkrieg’ to prevent workers at his downtown Los
Angeles factory from organizing for better benefits like paid time
off and affordable health care.

The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees
(UNITE) began the unionization campaign in 2003. In February, it
announced that the company was ‘in settlement talks with the
National Labor Relations Board for violating federal law by
blocking the unionization of its shop,’ the
Columbia News Service reports.

That’s tough PR for a company that’s built its customer base by
appealing to consumers’ willingness to shell out extra cash for
duds that don’t exploit workers. Charney has responded in kind by
calling UNITE ‘just another corporate agent,’ a claim the Columbia
News Service backs up by citing the some $1 billion UNITE has won
from companies but not shared with union members.

‘There is no doubt this company is very progressive. They pay
the right wages, treat workers well,’ vouches Angelica Salas,
director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los
Angeles. But Paul, who got a whiff of American Apparel’s anti-union
sentiments during an unsuccessful employment interview, reaches a
different verdict: ‘[K]nowing that the company has bullied its
workers, and that sexism pervades from the ad department up through
the office of the CEO, it becomes clear that American Apparel is
different only in degree, not kind, from its competitors.’

Go there >>
Wolf
in Sheep’s Clothing

Go there too >>

American Apparel is Sweatshop Free but Needled by a Union

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