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Sweatshop Workers

August 27, 1995

I must write to correct an error in your Aug. 20 editorial on the garment industry.

The U.S. Department of Labor is not asking retailers to pay $5 million in back wages to the Thai workers who were enslaved in the El Monte garment sweatshop. The contractor and the manufacturers can be held responsible under the Fair Labor Standards Act for the wages denied these workers. The department has filed civil suit against the contractors and is pursuing other means of collecting the wages.

We are asking retailers to sit down with Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich to help develop strategies that will protect retailers, workers and consumers from abusive contractors. Government regulation is not the answer. Our agency has fewer than 900 investigators nationwide who must monitor the compliance of more than 22,000 sewing shops that employ more than 1 million workers, while at the same time enforcing all the other labor laws for America's 110 million workers. We need the industry's cooperation and assistance to eradicate labor law abuses and foster a healthy, robust garment industry in the United States.

MARIA ECHAVESTE, Administrator

Wage and Hour Division

U.S. Department of Labor

Washington

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* Re "Hasty Warrants vs. the 4th Amendment," by Laurie L. Levenson, Commentary, Aug. 22: If the original tip had been given to federal law enforcement about a suspected Mafia activity (e.g., bookmaking), I assure you the follow-up would have been much more aggressive. That is, the Feds would have been given full support in seeking and placing wiretaps, bugs, high-tech cameras, infiltrators (undercover agents) and so on.

Are we to believe that, based upon a tip, the Feds never even considered getting someone into the apartment complex?

It truly does not amaze me to see how convenient the flag and the Constitution become for federal agencies. I would also wager that a tip to the INS about where to find some illegal Latinos would result in an all-out raid.

LUCIA BARTOLI

Laguna Hills

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* Slavery of Thai workers, Chinese or anyone is illegal and forbidden in U.S. How about granting China the most-favored-nation trade status to flood the American market with products of slavery and earn $35 billion worth of trade surplus annually?

EDWARD CHANG

Santa Ana

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* Re "Thai Sweatshop Workers Savor Freedom's Joys," Aug. 13:

The 72 Thais rescued from an El Monte sweatshop who were released from federal custody are being required to stay in the U.S. to be witnesses in the prosecution of the alleged sweatshop operators. Nothing like holding them captive all over again.

I think the U.S. should welcome them with open arms.

MAUREEN DICKSON

Arcadia

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* Based on the INS record of finding excuses to allow illegals to stay in the U.S., it's doubtful that anyone expects these Thai citizens to ever be sent back home. These people came in illegally, their plans backfired and they were victimized by their own people, so it's good the authorities finally put a stop to their unhappy situation. It appalls me, however, to see them treated as heroes instead of the criminals they are, and it occurs to me they found another innovative method to get to the U.S.

I am a 30-year U.S. citizen who immigrated legally from the United Kingdom 35 years ago. Not a single member of my family has ever been allowed to come here. My British nephew's 12-year efforts have brought only frustration and disappointment. Where the INS is concerned, honesty is punished while dishonesty is rewarded.

MARY HUGHES THOMPSON

Los Angeles

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* I find Christopher Scheer's Aug. 14 commentary condescending, racist and ill-informed. Scheer's implicit conclusion is that the Thai culture caused these women to be enslaved. He seems to equate Thai culture with "obsession with status," "mobster" and "pimp." Scheer's attack on Thai society includes everybody--employer, cops, bureaucrats and even Thai parents (for selling their children). Scheer did not even qualify his accusation as to how rare this practice is. (Of course, those underage prostitutes on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles were not sold by their parents but ended there because of their "free choice.")

Scheer's conclusion is like saying Susan Smith is the product of American society's "obsession" with the individual at the expense of the family or community. Or Waco and Koresh are the result of Christianity. He is wrong to combine his limited knowledge of Thailand and the Thai culture with the unacceptable condition of these women. He is also wrong to say that "everybody wishes they would just go away." Not I. Nor many people I know. Both cultures have their pluses and minuses. Exploiters are everywhere.

SUKUM SAI-NGARM

Pasadena

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