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HUNTINGTON PARK : Strikers File 2 Suits Against UniHosiery

COMMUNITY NEWS: Southeast

May 15, 1994|MARY HELEN BERG

Striking workers at UniHosiery Inc. have filed two class-action lawsuits against the company and its managers, alleging that male Korean supervisors practiced pervasive sex and race discrimination and sexual harassment, and assaulted male Latino employees.

The lawsuits filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court are the latest charges against the company, where workers walked out two months ago to protest what they called unfair labor practices. The sock manufacturer at 6724 S. Alameda St. also has a warehouse at 321 32nd St. and distributes wares to swap-meet vendors.

According to the first complaint, UniHosiery Manager James Paik and other male company officials subjected at least 14 male workers to sexual harassment over several years. Paik said he did not know about the lawsuits and could not comment on the allegations.

The complaint alleges that managers frequently grabbed, poked and pinched workers in the buttocks and crotch with their hands or with tools.

In one case, a manager driving a forklift allegedly cornered a worker against a wall. Once trapped, a second supervisor began to remove the employee's pants, the document states, and the managers left after the worker screamed for help.

In several instances, managers allegedly followed the workers into the bathroom to ogle or assault them. When workers complained about the harassment, supervisors said they were "just playing," according to the complaint.

One five-year employee, who asked that his name not be used, said workers were treated "like animals."

"Whenever my hands were busy (on the production line, a supervisor) would try to touch me," said the 24-year-old Los Angeles resident.

Plaintiffs are seeking $25,000 each in addition to punitive damages and attorney fees.

The company also discriminated against Latino employees on the basis of race, denying them promotions and pay raises allotted to Korean employees, according to the second complaint.

All positions of responsibility--managers, office staff and mechanics--are held by Koreans, while all production workers are Latino, the complaint said.

Latino employees who filled in as mechanics were reportedly told that they could not be permanently promoted to the position because "the company rules were that no race or nationality other than Koreans can hold any of the higher positions at the company."

Another worker said managers told him Latinos were "too stupid" to be mechanics, the complaint stated. The workers are seeking back pay, punitive and compensatory damages and attorney fees.

About 80 workers have been on strike since March 14. Organizers with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union said workers asked the union for help in February after the company passed new rules that they felt were unfair. Three weeks later, the company suspended about 50 workers, telling them their Social Security numbers were questionable. The garment-workers union helped organize the strike. Nearly all production employees walked out in support.

Attorney Charles Goldstein, who is representing the company, said Social Security numbers were reviewed after burglaries were discovered at the factory. The review revealed that many employees did not have legal documents, Goldstein said, and these workers cannot be rehired by UniHosiery.

"Why would you strike a company that can't take them back without violating the law?" Goldstein said. "And if (the company doesn't) take them back, (the union) can't declare a victory."

The National Labor Relations Board is investigating charges of unfair labor practices within the company.

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