American Apparel needs to stop promoting itself as “sweatshop-free,” according to a coalition of workers who make clothes for Los Angeles-based brand. The stipulation, made by newly established—not to mention loquacious—Coalition of American Apparel Factory Workers United to Save American Apparel on Wednesday, is just one among a list of demands for the company’s new corporate regime, which took control after founder and CEO Dov Charney’s unceremonious ouster in December. Charney, despite numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, has emerged a kind of folk hero among American Apparel’s largely Latin American immigrant workforce. Over the weekend, hundreds of garment workers gathered in a backyard meeting in South Central, where Charney rallied support with a rousing speech: “Don’t ask what you can do for me. Don’t ask what you can do for yourselves. Ask what you can do for the company,” he reportedly proclaimed to peals of applause.
The crowd’s almost rapturous response stands in contrast with the growing hostility toward American Apparel’s new management as established by Standard General, the New York-based investment firm that took ownership of Charney’s controlling stake.
Maria Luisa Salgado, a spokeswoman for labor coalition, says workers have been harassed and physically intimidated by American Apparel security staff. Ana Amador, who works at the company, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday claiming she was “accosted and interrogated” after she attended the first coalition meeting on February 16. Amador also wrote that a security guard confiscated flyers from her before photographing her ID badge and threatening her with the loss of her job.
“The current situation of intimidation by large and gruff security guards directed at workers for having a flyer calling for meetings, and interrogating them about meetings, is a violation of the U.S. Constitution and the National Labor Relations Board Act,” Salgado says in a statement. “We are involved in protected activity, and such harassment needs to stop immediately.”
Coalition members say that at least 4,500 local manufacturing jobs are at risk because of the new management, which they hold responsible for the “blind reduction” of production hours and the furloughing of workers.
“The current corporate management is estranged from the cultural spirit that existed at American Apparel under the leadership of its founder, Dov Charney,” Salgado says. “Under the new management, we do not feel safe or dignified.”
A spokesman for American Apparel says bullying and intimidation are a violation of its Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, and that it remains “dedicated to a culture of free speech and social commentary.”
“American Apparel will investigate these allegations to determine the actual facts,” he adds. “If anyone is found to have been intimidating employees, we will take the appropriate action to remedy the situation.”