No Sweat With Alta Gracia Apparel

Alta Gracia Apparel, a U.S.-owned factory in Latin America, marries profit and workers’ rights


| March/April 2012



Joseph Bozich

Joseph Bozich, CEO of Knights Apparel, and Mireya Perez, a union leader

MICHAEL KAMBER/WWW.KAMBERPHOTO.COM

Aracelis “Kuky” Upia, a 39-year-old factory worker in the Dominican Republic, is participating in an experiment that, if it is successful, could help end sweatshops as a staple of the global economy.

A single mother of four, Upia has been sewing in factories since she was 15. For years she earned less than $50 a week. Some employers simply refused to pay her. At one point she was so in debt that the local market stopped extending her credit.

Today, Upia sews T-shirts for $2.85 an hour, a leap in income and nearly three times the country’s minimum wage. She has paid off her loans and can grocery shop again. She has purchased a refrigerator, plans to add rooms to her home to rent out for additional income, and has paid for her son Nisael’s long-postponed dental work.

Upia was among the first workers hired by Alta Gracia Apparel, an apparel factory named after the town where she has lived all her life that produces T-shirts and sweatshirts for U.S. colleges for prices similar to Nike’s.

One of 120 nonmanagement employees—mostly sewing-machine operators, but also cutters, packers, and maintenance staff—Upia earns not only a living wage, but also at least 35 percent overtime for more than 44 hours of work a week, and more on weekends and holidays.