Made in Downtown LAVertically Integrated Manufacturing
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1,800 Workers without Immigration Documentation
Laid Off in LA
Over the next few days, clothing manufacturer American Apparel will fire 1,800 employees working in the company's downtown Los Angeles factory. The workers were unable to provide documents proving their right to work in the United States.
La Presse
Nicolas Bérubé
October 2, 2009

The status of the employees was disclosed to the company after an intensive, 17-month investigation by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).

By law, employers are required to obtain employees' social insurance numbers and documents proving their right to work. Many workers, false documents at the ready, are hired and therefore also required to pay taxes and social contributions to the state like any other employee.

This week, Dov Charney, the controversial president of American Apparel, sent out an open letter to his employees. Charney, who has had several sexual harassment lawsuits filed against him in recent years, is a long-time activist in the fight for the rights of immigrant workers.

"I am deeply saddened by the fact that many of you will be leaving the company over the next few days and weeks," he wrote. "Many of you have been working with me for so many years ... when you are able to get your immigration papers in order, you will be given priority treatment, in terms of being interviewed for future positions with the company."

Charney recalls the fact that President Obama promised immigration reform during his campaign, but has so far failed to bring about any changes since his arrival at the White House. The new president's popularity remains extremely high among Latin Americans: the most recent polls show that over 75 % of Spanish speakers are satisfied with the job he has done to date.

Made in L.A.

American Apparel manufactures all its clothing in downtown LA. The vertically integrated corporation pays higher-than-normal salaries for this particular industry, offers health insurance and recently distributed millions of dollars in stock to its employees. A huge banner hanging on the company's massive headquarters is emblazoned with a slogan calling for immigration reform: "Legalize LA".

The I.C.E. caused quite a stir during the Bush administration, carrying out aggressive raids on the company's main manufacturing plant. Under Obama, the organization appears to have adopted less extreme measures. Now, financial audits are executed, and targeted companies are responsible for dismissing workers without proper immigration documentation.

American Apparel's founder, however, believes that these more prudent methods aren't as big an improvement as they might seem.

"It is my belief that immigrants bring prosperity to any economy," says the Montreal-born CEO. "They become motivated workers, and they sometimes become motivated business owners like me. They bring fresh ideas, optimism, and passion to any economy and they help contribute to a prosperous future."

Translation by Joana De Castro

Read the French Version