[Stop-traffic] News/US/CNMI: Chinese garment workers sue DKNY for unpaid wages

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/US/CNMI: Chinese garment workers sue DKNY for unpaid wages
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Fri Jul 28 2000 - 08:42:43 EDT


Chinese garment workers sue DKNY for unpaid wages
By Gail Appleson, Law Correspondent
June 8, 2000

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A group of Chinese immigrant garment workers sued
designer clothing maker and retailer Donna Karan International, also known
as DKNY, Wednesday alleging they were cheated out of minimum and overtime
wages.

The five workers filed the suit in Manhattan federal court seeking class
action status on behalf of as many as 300 garment factory employees who
sewed clothing sold under Donna Karan labels. Jen Chu Apparel, the owner of
the Manhattan factory where the garments were made, and Jen Chu Apparel's
owners were also named as defendants.

Kenneth Kimerling, legal director of the Asian American Legal Defense Fund
which filed the suit on behalf of the workers, said it was not yet known
how much money the plaintiffs would seek because the size of the class had
not been determined. However, he estimated it would be in the millions of
dollars.

``We believe that the claims against the company are without merit and plan
to defend against them vigorously,'' Donna Karan International said in a
statement. ``We do not believe we should be held responsible for another
company's business practices over which we have no control, particularly
where we understand the workers are represented by a union.''

The suit alleges that since 1992 the workers toiled every day, working an
average of 70 to 80 hours per week, and were never paid overtime. Some were
paid by the piece and did not earn the minimum wage, the suit alleged.

Donna Karan set the prices for the garments and production requirements.
These prices dictated the piece rates and hourly rates paid to the factory
workers, the suit alleged.

The plaintiffs alleged that the prices did not include an allowance for
overtime. The suit alleged that a Donna Karan representative visited the
factory on occasion in the evening and was aware that employees were there
working at that time.

Although workers punched a clock, they were asked to sign a paper that
falsified the hours they worked, the suit alleged.

After the Jen Chu factory was visited by a New York State Department of
Labor inspector in February 1998, the factory allegedly began keeping two
sets of time clock records for the hourly workers, the suit alleged. One
set of records reflected the actual hours they worked and another false
record allegedly showed no or almost no overtime.

The plaintiffs alleged they were made to sign both cards.

Workers who were paid by the piece were also allegedly given false time
cards and false piece rate cards after the inspector's visit. The cards
allegedly underreported either the amount of work they did or the piece
rate for their work.

The workers were allegedly required to sign the two false cards as well as
a third card that showed their actual piece rate records.

The suit alleged that the plaintiffs were paid partially in cash and
partially by check. The workers alleged that the factory's owners did not
report the cash payments to tax authorities.

Kimerling alleged that when Donna Karan and other apparel manufacturers
were sued for labor violations in the past, they simply moved to new
factories so that it appeared they were cutting ties with sweatshop
operations. But, he said, workers at the new factories were also underpaid.

``By bringing a class action on behalf of workers in all factories where
Donna Karan's work is done, the manufacturers can't simply move its
garments away,'' Kimerling said. ``Donna Karan must address the problem of
sweatshop labor in New York City.''

Donna Karan is among a group of companies that have agreed to settle a
federal class action suit lawsuit in Hawaii over poor working conditions at
sweatshops on the Pacific island of Saipan.
Melanie Orhant
Stop-Traffic Moderator

Please contact me off-list for any questions about the list at
<<morhant@igc.org>>.

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