When Fashion and the Law Collide: American Apparel (Again)



American Apparel, the largest garment manufacturer in the U.S., and “arguably the most vocal” in speaking up against U.S. immigration policies, is terminating about 1,500 employees at its Los Angeles factory, because they were unable to prove their immigration status or fix problems with their employment records. This after a government inspection uncovered that close to 1,600 of the manufacturer/retailer’s workers didn’t appear to be authorized to work in the U.S.

The debate over how a country built on immigration should manage its new immigrant workforce exploded into mass demonstrations in several major cities in 2006. American Apparel was a leader in the campaign to legalize foreign workers, saying that it is good for business.

Policy overhaul efforts failed in Congress in 2007, and both presidential candidates said they supported humane reform, but kept quiet on the subject in the months leading to the election on November 4, 2008. The dramatic tailspin of financial markets and the slowing U.S. economy has pushed the immigration issue even further into the background, a situation that American Apparel has tried to challenge.

Large workplace sweeps by U.S. immigration police hit meat-processing and electronics plants across the country in late 2008, and Homeland Security released a list this past July of 652 businesses nationwide that would receive audits (I-9) of its workforce. American Apparel was one of them. The company has never been raided, but it has had to let workers go whose papers are discovered to be false in the past. An attorney working for the company on the audit said the results showed no wrongdoing by the company.

Despite the dismissal of more than 10% of its workforce, AA doesn’t expect problems with productivity, since, well, “the confluence of several factors including the slow economy and high preexisting inventory levels,” said the attorney. So what does that mean? Get your bootys over to American Apparel and buy something!

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