Garment workers staged a protest against two clothing factories in Long Island City, Queens, on Tuesday, August 11.
They were rallying for the rights of six Chinese workers, who allegedly are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages and were fired unlawfully from Great Wall Corp., a garment manufacturer, and Silver Fashion, a subcontractor that produces for Great Wall.
More than 100 demonstrators were in attendance, along with representatives from local advocacy groups, including the Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association, National Mobilization Against SweatShops and New York City NOW.
“Long Island City is a sweatshop zone; these conditions are rampant and have only gotten worse through the years. Today we really want to make a stand,” said Jei Fong, an organizer with the Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association. “People need to demand better conditions. It’s the only way for the garment industry to improve.”
In December, the six workers filed a lawsuit with the National Labor Relations Board against Great Wall and Silver Fashion, each run by a husband and wife. The complaints alleged that the employers deducted 5 percent from the workers’ minimum-wage pay, did not pay them for overtime, and reduced their piece-rate payments, despite workweeks of more than 100 hours.
However, the workers were fired from both factories shortly after the filing, leading to a second lawsuit for wrongful termination.
Benjamin Holt, a staff attorney for the Urban Justice Center, is working on the case on behalf of the workers.
“The unpaid wages alone were over $500,000,” Holt said, adding that they are “seeking back pay for the time our clients were out of work and reinstatement to jobs at the factory.”
The case is currently being reviewed, but could go to trial in early 2010, Holt estimates.
Tuesday’s protest follows a February federal court decision that found manufacturing company Liberty Apparel guilty of labor and wage violations. Liberty was ordered to pay $550,000 to workers. Many garment workers and advocacy groups expected the Liberty Apparel announcement to send a stern message to would-be labor violators in New York.
“Liberty Apparel changed the precedent for compensation, but despite that, a lot of these bosses are ignoring the law and still trying to use ridiculous schemes,” Fong said.