State Raids New York City Sweatshops
Labor Department Issues First-Ever Order of Confiscation Against Manufacturer and Tags Contractor's Products; Garments May not be Moved or Sold Until Full Restitution is Made to Workers
New York City, NY (April 29, 2009) - This morning, State Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith announced that last night, the Labor Department’s Apparel Industry Task Force entered the headquarters of Suburban Textiles, Inc. (trading as Forest Uniform Corp.), a garment manufacturer, and issued an Order confiscating all garments made at its facilities as well as all manufacturing equipment. The Labor Department also affixed tags, to be removed only by the Labor Department, to garments produced by Technical Garment USA Co., Inc., a contractor used by the manufacturer to produce some of its goods. Manufacturers in the garment industry commonly subcontract work out to contractors, as in this situation. The garments will remain confiscated and tagged until restitution has been made to underpaid workers. Both the manufacturer, Forest Uniform Corp., and the contractor, Technical Garment USA Co., Inc. have been producing New York Police Department dress uniforms since at least 2007. The Labor Department has alerted the NYPD of its findings.
The manufacturer, Forest Uniform Corp., has been found in violation of state apparel registration law three times in the last three years. As a result, for the first time, the Labor Department utilized the Order of Confiscation provision in State Labor Law, which allows the Apparel Industry Task Force to confiscate apparel and equipment from any manufacturer or contractor found to be liable for two or more separate labor law violations during the preceding three-year period.
The Department’s investigation prior to yesterday’s raid uncovered numerous labor law violations by the manufacturer, Forest Uniform Corp., and the contractor, Technical Garment USA Co., Inc., including the failure to maintain required payroll records and failure to register as a garment manufacturer in New York State. The contractor, Technical Garment USA Co., Inc., also failed to pay employees required overtime wages, despite assigned workweeks of up to 80 hours, and also violated the state’s day of rest requirement. A total of nearly $500,000 is estimated to be owed in wages and damages to 16 workers.
“For too long, this employer and its contractor have flagrantly thumbed their noses at our investigators,” said Commissioner Smith. “Enough is enough. Our patience in this matter is over. Either pay your workers and get in compliance or we’ll confiscate or tag every last shirt, jacket, and sock you produce.”
New York City Deputy Police Commissioner Paul J. Browne said, “The New York City Police Department has no contracts with, and makes no purchases from, any of the manufacturers or contractors identified in the Labor Department investigation. None of the uniforms sold to members of the service by the NYPD Equipment Section is from these manufacturers or contractors. However, the NYPD has authorized members of the service to purchase dress uniforms that are sold privately and that are manufactured by Forest Uniform. Dress uniforms are not worn for regular police duties, but for funerals and ceremonial occasions. Considering the seriousness of the Labor Department’s findings, the Police Department has removed this manufacturer from its list of authorized vendors of dress uniforms from which members of the service may privately make future purchases.”
On April 13, 2007, the manufacturer, Forest Uniform Corp., was found to be in violation of the 1986 law requiring all apparel manufacturers to be registered with the State of New York. That law, enacted because of widespread and entrenched violations in the garment industry, requires registrants to provide data about the number of their employees and proof of workers’ compensation coverage, as well as detailed contact information for owners, partners and corporate officers, so that employers found in violation of labor laws cannot disappear and avoid liability.
Three weeks later, the manufacturer, Forest Uniform Corp., was issued a second Notice of Violation for continued non-compliance with the law. In November 2007, the Labor Department issued a Notice of Violations to the owner of the manufacturer, Forest Uniform Corp., for failure to maintain payroll records for all employees and failure to furnish employees with a wage statement with each paycheck.
During the course of the investigation, the Labor Department learned that the manufacturer, Forest Uniform Corp., had been contracting work out to another garment shop owned by the husband and wife team of Andres Ortiz and Mindy Wong. The company, a contractor called Technical Garment USA Co. Inc. (formerly known as Devine Fashion Corp. and Opus Fashion Corp.), is not currently registered as an apparel manufacturer with the Department of Labor. On April 13, 2009, it was issued a Notice of Violation by Department of Labor investigators for failure to register.
Labor Department investigators also found that the contractor, Technical Garment USA Co., Inc., had been using two sets of time cards for each employee. The time cards used for payroll recordkeeping never showed more than 40 to 45 hours of work, paid at the correct rates. However, the real time cards obtained by the Labor Department tell a different story, with workers toiling up to eighty hours, and sometimes seven days in a given week.
The Labor Department learned that the contractor, Technical Garment USA Co., Inc., eventually stopped using two sets of time cards and instead began recording all overtime hours in a notebook that was locked in the owner’s office - while time cards still falsely showed roughly 40 hours per week.
“During good economic times and bad, this employer cut corners every step of the way,” said Commissioner Smith. “We will do everything we can to recover the money owed to every worker affected by this case.”
Witness accounts also indicate that the contractor, Technical Garment USA Co., Inc., coached employees to give false statements to Labor Department investigators during interviews, with the looming threat of termination of employment if they told the truth.
One employee interviewed by Labor Department investigators did not receive overtime wages for hours worked beyond 40, even though he often worked up to 70 or 80 hours per week. The overtime requirement mandates that employers pay one and one-half times an employee’s regular rate for each hour past 40 in a given week. Investigators estimate that this employee is owed more than $30,000 in lost wages.
This investigation was handled by investigators from the Apparel Industry Task Force of the New York State Department of Labor. Commissioner Smith especially commended the work of Investigator Micaela Angel and Senior Investigator Cloty Ortiz, who conducted surveillance on weekends and evenings, uncovering systematic fraud at both facilities. The investigation was carried out under the supervision of Lorelei Boylan, Director of Strategic Enforcement in the Division of Labor Standards; Carmine Ruberto, Director of the Division of Labor Standards; and Terri Gerstein, Deputy Commissioner for Wage Protection and Immigrant Services.
The State Labor Department encourages employers and workers to contact the department about wage and hour issues. Investigators will answer any questions regarding New York’s labor laws. Information is also available on the department’s web site - www.labor.ny.gov; or by phone at 1-888-52-LABOR.