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American Apparel terminations are in store for 1,500 workers

The Los Angeles manufacturer and clothing retailer says it must dismiss employees who were unable to prove their immigration status or fix problems with their employment records.

September 03, 2009|Andrea Chang

Hundreds of American Apparel Inc. workers must leave the company because they were unable to prove their immigration status or fix problems with their employment records, the company said Wednesday.

The terminations come two months after the Los Angeles manufacturer and retailer announced that a government inspection had found that about 1,600 of its workers didn't appear to be authorized to work in the U.S.

About 200 more had been found to have discrepancies in their employment records. Among the infractions found were some employees' use of fake Social Security numbers.

"There are approximately 1,500 workers facing termination during the month of September," said Peter Schey, a lawyer for American Apparel. The company "is very disappointed and disheartened at having to terminate a very large number of workers who by and large have been reliable contributors to the success of the company."

All of the affected workers are based at the company's manufacturing facility in downtown Los Angeles, Schey said.

In a letter to employees, founder and Chief Executive Dov Charney said he was "deeply saddened" at having to let workers go.

"Many of you have been with me for so many years, and I just cry when I think that so many people will be leaving the company," he wrote. "It is my belief that immigrants bring prosperity to any economy."

Charney also told the workers that once they were able to get their immigration papers in order, they would be "given priority treatment" for positions with the company, known for its racy advertising, colorful clothes and support for immigration reform.

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined to discuss American Apparel specifically, saying the federal agency was "not at liberty to discuss fines levied in work site enforcement cases until the fine amount becomes final."

She did say that in general, employers were responsible for dismissing unauthorized workers.

"There's no direct order from ICE to terminate an employee," she said. "But if a company continues to employ individuals who are not authorized to work, they understand there may be potential legal consequences."

Kice also declined to speculate on what would happen to illegal workers once they left a company.

"The focus is on the employer . . . on ensuring that businesses employ a legal workforce," she said. "Then again, if someone is in this country in violation of immigration laws, they are subject to enforcement action."

Although the dismissals amount to more than 10% of American Apparel's roughly 10,000-employee workforce, the company doesn't expect problems for its business, Schey said.

"We do not anticipate that it will have a significant impact on American Apparel's productivity because of the confluence of several factors including the slow economy and high preexisting inventory levels," he said.

The terminations are just the latest in a string of public problems that the company has faced.

In May, American Apparel agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by Woody Allen over the unauthorized use of the actor-director's image on the company's billboards.

On Wednesday, the company said it agreed to no longer use an advertisement that had run in Britain after a standards authority deemed that the sexual nature of the ad had the potential to offend people.

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andrea.chang@latimes.com

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