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2 Unionized Coat Makers Investigated for Labor Law Violations

June 11, 1996|STUART SILVERSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

State and federal authorities are investigating possible labor law violations, including children working at home illegally, involving two coat-manufacturing firms that are among the few unionized businesses in Southern California's garment industry.

In all, about 15 adult workers and two children are believed to have been illegally employed or underpaid. The suspected violations were unwelcome news to both labor leaders and Clinton administration officials, who have backed efforts to unionize more of the industry as a way to curb widespread sweatshop abuses.

The suspected abuses, authorities said, occurred at Anza Fashions, a small sewing contractor that opened this spring in the San Bernardino County community of Chino. Also under investigation is a long-established West Los Angeles clothing manufacturer, M. Shapiro Co., that contracts work out to Anza and is believed to be its main customer.

Representatives of the two unionized firms denied any wrongdoing.

State and federal authorities said that, acting on a tip, they inspected Anza on Friday and found that employees had not been paid for three weeks. In addition, authorities said they discovered that one employee was bringing home garments and putting two sons, ages 12 and 15, to work sewing them.

As a result, authorities said they plan to seek unspecified penalties for alleged child labor, minimum wage and overtime pay violations, along with illegal home work. Brian Taverner, a wage and hour investigator in Santa Ana for the U.S. Labor Department, said the 15 adults are believed to be owed $5,120 in back wages.

The M. Shapiro firm, whose goods carry the Dumas label, was profiled in The Times last year as a firm that has prospered despite being unionized and paying substantially higher wages and benefits than most apparel industry firms.

In any case, garment industry officials such as Bernard Lax, president of the Coalition of Apparel Industries of California lobbying group, said the case shows that "the union is not the solution to the problem. When [U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich] goes around saying that, it's more of a political statement than a reality."

But Steve Nutter, regional director of Unite, the main garment union, said the case shows that the union is doing its job.

"Workers uncovered the problem, workers reported the problem, and the union is working expeditiously to solve the problem," he said.

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