Factory Owes Nearly Half A Million In Back Wages
From Singtao Chinese Daily
January 17, 2003
As part of an ongoing struggle to collect months of hard-earned,
but unpaid, back pay, approximately 150 garment workers and their
supporters braved the frigid weather and congregated before New
York's Southern District Federal Courthouse downtown at 9 a.m. yesterday
to demonstrate, [just a short while before their case was to be
Chanting such phrases as "give me back my blood and sweat money",
"we want justice", and "down with sweatshops", they hoped to make
the judges inside aware of their deep frustration.
Among those present to support the workers was Congresswoman Nydia
Velázquez, who ridiculed the United States for failing to
act upon its own proclaimed respect for human rights. It is not
easy for a country to admit that human rights abuses occur within
its borders, and in this case, she add, it is not Taiwan, not mainland
China, and not Cuba that is in violation, but the United States.
She then urged the workers of the 103 Factory of East Broadway to
not be afraid, because reason was on their side. She said she would
fight to guarantee labor rights in Congress, and bring an end to
sweatshops by encouraging consumers to avoid purchasing their products.
Big Bucks Yet Refusing To Compensate Workers
A representative for the workers of East Broadway's 103 Factory,
Li Meiying, explained that the problem began in 1999, when the factory
manager owed 30 to 40 workers four months of pay. His excuse was
that the factory's distributing firm, "Liberty," had not yet advanced
him the funds. When further pressed, he paid the workers small amounts,
and in this manner the sum owed climbed into the hundreds of thousands
of dollars (as reported, their due was about $120,000, and when
overtime was included, amounted to nearly $500,000). At this point
he closed the factory and moved to another state.
The workers would wake up in the dark, pre-dawn hours, and spend
the day working in a frenzy to fill ever-pressing garment orders.
Working even in times of sickness, they toiled away, earning the
big bucks for their boss. When they were not compensated as promised,
the workers turned to the Chinese Workers Association for help.
The aid and encouragement they received enabled them to organize
themselves and launch a lawsuit against their former employer, and
his distributor, Liberty. However, the judge found that the distributor
was not their boss, and therefore not responsible for his debt to
them, leading the workers to appeal to a higher court.
The director of the Chinese Workers Association, Lin Song, pointed
out that though the 9/11 incident has affected all of Chinatown,
the garment industry has suffered the most. Many factory workers
have already lost their jobs, and to be owed months of back pay
at a time like this is intolerable. This injustice prompted the
association to intervene. Lin Song added that cases similar to that
of the 103 Factory have occurred many times before, and that federal
judge Cafy's pronouncement that Liberty was not responsible for
the debt since it was not the party which directly hired the workers
or dispensed their wages, was entirely ridiculous.
National Anti-Sweatshop Network director, Ruth [THE ONLY NAME THAT
IS GIVEN], also appeared at the demonstration. She said that her
mother was a garment worker, and would have understood the workers'
frustration, that sweatshop labor is unfair and that it should have
been abolished long ago. After voicing a range of messages, the
hundred workers and a dozen accompanying Chinese and Western reporters
filed into the Federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals to hear their
case, filling the courtroom to capacity.
There are three presiding judges - Ralph K. Winter, Perre N. Leval,
and Jose Cabranes. Attorney James Reif represents the workers. Yesterday,
he began by clarifying why Liberty owes the 103 Factory workers
the back wages; the distributor knowingly patronized an illegal
sweatshop where non-English speaking immigrants labored more than
13 hours a day.
Garment Merchant And The Production Process
The distributor plays a most important role in the manufacturing
process, determining everything from the correct retail price to
the fabric quality, from the presence of zippers to the shipping
To bolster the workers' case, State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer
has also drawn attention to the fact that the 103 Factory was in
violation of New York State labor regulations; it did not pay minimum
wage, did not draw up a contract with its employees, and did not
offer a "one and a half" wage for overtime (even though practically
all the plaintiffs worked beyond 40 hours a week).
Liberty's attorney, Michael Klein, explained why it was not his
client's responsibility to remind the factory to fulfill its debt
to the workers.
He said that the distributor was not directly responsible for the
hiring of workers and had no real authority over how the factory
conducted itself. It dutifully paid the factory after each order
was filled; that the latter firm owed its employees back pay was
not its affair. After the attorneys had made their statements, the
appellate judges asked for further clarification on the relationship
between the workers, the factory, and the distributor. A decision
is expected to be reached in two to three months.
Translated From Chinese By Kelvin Wu
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