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Raids on O.C. Shops Are a Bust : Authorities Find Nothing Amiss at Garment Factories

June 13, 1996|DON LEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

State and federal labor authorities conducted raids Wednesday on garment factories in Orange County, but the whole affair turned out to be a flop when the four targeted shops were found to be in basic compliance with the law.

Inspectors wrote up no citations and were hard pressed to explain why they hit the factories in the first place.

"We had reason to believe there were significant problems," said Roberta Mendonca, the state's new labor commissioner, who had traveled from San Francisco in anticipation of a significant bust. "Some tips are not as good as others," she said.

The raids, part of the joint federal and state garment industry enforcement effort, were supposed to be one of the biggest crackdowns this year in the Southland, so big that labor officials assembled a team of 15 inspectors, some from as far away as Northern California.

State labor officials also invited a crew from NBC's "Dateline" show, who, along with teams of inspectors wired with NBC microphones, fanned out to three of the four factories at 9:45 a.m.

State officials said before the raid that the factories were not registered, which likely would have been the most serious violation, leading to fines of $100 per employee and the confiscation of goods. State authorities even brought along a van to haul away any clothing that might be seized.

Authorities had also suspected violations of minimum wage and overtime rules, potentially leading to significant back wages for workers.

But after entering the factories and meeting with company executives and interviewing employees, state inspectors determined that all the shops indeed were registered and carried the required workers' compensation insurance.

Paul K. Watkins, attorney for Santa Ana-based A & G Inc., operator of the four factories, said investigators should have checked their records more carefully before launching the raid.

"This was a fishing expedition," Watkins said. "To show up in such force where there is not a good cause is inappropriate."

A & G President Rauf Gajiani, who employs some 700 people at factories in Fountain Valley, Costa Mesa and Santa Ana, declined to comment.

Mendonca acknowledged that her agency had not fully researched the registration status of the companies raided. But she attributed that to the corporation's multiple names. Mendonca defended the show of force Wednesday as necessary.

She said the raids were triggered after two of the company's 700 employees lodged complaints with the U.S. Department of Labor.

"This was pretty much their show," Mendonca said of the federal labor officials.

Brian Taverner, who headed the federal side of the inspection, declined to comment about the employee complaints or whether the scope of the raids was justified.

But he acknowledged that there wasn't much there.

"From the payroll records, there were no apparent violations," Taverner said.

Interviews with workers Wednesday indicated that they receive the minimum wage and overtime pay, though a more thorough audit is expected later.

Vicente Candido, 30, was one of the workers interviewed by federal agents at the Fountain Valley site, the biggest of the four factories, with some 350 employees.

Candido said he has worked at the company for two years. He said he was paid overtime and averaged about $450 a week.

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