It's never fashionable to exploit your workers.
That's what one designer may soon learn in the course of a $50 million lawsuit alleging retaliation for New York City workers' compensation claims, as well as outright abuses and working conditions that have been compared to a sweatshop.
Our New York City workers' compensation attorneys have been following the heavy media coverage surrounding the case of fashion designer Alexander Wang. Some 30 current and former employees are suing Wang, alleging appalling work conditions, in which they were made to work 16-hour days in stifling, claustrophobic areas. What's more, some workers have said that when they suffered injuries, as a result of these conditions, they filed workers' compensation claims, and were subsequently fired.
These workers are suing for $50 million.
Wang, who reportedly earned $25 million last year, vehemently denies the allegations.
The New York Department of Labor specifically addresses issues within the apparel industry, which has been known historically to use "sweatshop" labor in order to cheaply and quickly manufacture clothing that they can sell for extremely low prices, thereby beating out the competition, or by selling them at high rates, thereby ensuring the profit margin will be sizable.
Sweatshops are identified by a myriad of different aspects, including: fire hazards, electrical hazards, safety hazards, health hazards, structural dangers, child labor, industrial homework, registration violations, tax irregularities and wage violations.
However, usually when we think of sweat shops, we think of overseas operations. That's because U.S. laws are stringent in terms of the working conditions it expects employers to offer. Laws in other countries aren't nearly as tough. Unfortunately, some companies have no qualms about putting profit above the rights of workers.
As the Department of Labor points out, when we do see sweatshops in the U.S., they are typically fly-by-night operations. They don't secure the proper permitting and they can quickly pick up and move across state lines if they need to in an attempt to elude the attention of authorities.
In 1996, the state of New York passed the "Hot Goods" law. This law essentially forbids the sale or distribution of clothing that has been made in sweatshops, which frequently cheat workers out of their money and pay less than the minimum wage requirements. Garment companies are registered under this law, and those that do not follow the standards can be tagged as "unlawfully manufactured."
One of the prime ways that sweatshops take advantage of workers is by paying them in cash and deducting wages that are illegal and undocumented. Here are some of the basic requirements of what garment workers must receive from their employers:
- Overtime. If a worker has logged more than 40 hours, he or she must be given one and one-half times their hourly pay rate for every hour they work.
- Children younger than 16 are not permitted to work in garment factories.
- Factories have to follow state and federal law and fire codes concerning safety. During work hours, fire exits have to be accessible and unlocked.
- All garment manufacturers have to register with the state's Department of Labor. They have to post that registration where employees can see it.
- Employees cannot be required to take anything home to work on it there.