Message-Id: <>
Date: Sat, 25 Oct 97 14:12:47 CDT
From: Michael Eisenscher <>
Subject: Los Angeles Sweatshop Workers Get $2 Million Settlement
Organization: ?
Article: 20611

Sweatshop Workers Get $2 Million Settlement

By Michael Miller, Reuters, 23 October 1997 08:55 p.m Eastern

LOS ANGELES (Reuters)—A group of Thai and Latino immigrant workers whose virtual slavery in barricaded sweatshops shocked America and rocked the garment industry, won a settlement of more than $2 million Thursday, their lawyer said.

The workers, who were freed from their bondage in August 1995, in raids by state and federal agents, had been forced to work for up to 20 hours a day for less than $1 an hour and had not been allowed to leave their compounds, which were surrounded by high walls topped with barbed wire.

Some of the 80 Thai and 70 Latino workers had been forced to work in those conditions for up to three years, authorities said.

Julie Su, an attorney with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, who represented the workers, said four companies had agreed to pay $2 million to the 80 Thais and 70 Latinos and that a fifth company had also agreed to pay an undisclosed sum.

The $2-million payment, to settle a federal lawsuit brought by the workers, was agreed by B.U.M. International, L.F. Sportswear, Mervyn—s and Montgomery Ward. Hub Distributors/Miller—s Outpost agreed to pay an undisclosed sum, Su said.

She said the settlement was approved by U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins.

Representatives of the companies were not immediately available for comment but Su said as part of the agreement, the companies denied any knowledge of the workers— pay or conditions and also denied knowledge of, or contact with, the sweatshops or their owners.

Seven people, all Thai nationals and mostly family members, who owned the sweatshops, are currently serving prison terms of 3 to 7 years after pleading guilty last year to federal charges of conspiracy, indentured servitude and harboring illegal aliens.

The discovery of the sweatshop in suburban El Monte created a national uproar and prompted a government probe into conditions in the garment industry.

The Thais have already received $1 million in back pay, $800,000 of that coming from money seized by federal agents from the sweatshop. The other $200,000 was paid by a number of companies to avoid federal charges.

The civil lawsuit which resulted in Thursday—s settlement had originally asked for $5 million in back wages and $2 million in interest, but Su said she was satisfied with the result.

This is a victory not only for these workers but for all workers who suffer in sweatshops. And it sends the garment industry a message, she said.

She said the Thai workers, who had entered the country illegally and were detained briefly by the Immigration and Naturalization Service after being freed from the sweatshop, had all been granted work permits and were now employed in respectable factories.

Su said she believed the Latino workers were also still in the country. The money would be distributed to the workers in proportion to the amount of time they had toiled in the sweatshops, Su said.