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Layoffs in LA: American Apparel Takes on Immigration Reform


Popular retailer American Apparel must terminate an estimate 1,600 employees following a government audit of workers' immigration statuses.

Popular retailer American Apparel must terminate an estimated 1,600 employees following a government audit of workers' immigration statuses.

The often vilified, yet ever popular, apparel retailer American Apparel announced on Thursday that it would be laying off an estimated 1,600 of its Los Angeles based factory labor work force in the wake of a government investigation into workers’ immigration statuses.

The investigation, which began in early July, was lead by Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch (ICE), and includes the audit of 651 additional business nationwide who are suspected of employing illegal immigrants. The ICE previously focused its attentions primarily on raiding factories and other workplaces during the Bush years, while employers were rarely penalized. However, in a reversal guided by the new Obama administration, the ICE  is now shifting its tactics to instead make employers the main target of its audits. As a result, American Apparel’s CEO Dov Charney was contacted by the ICE with news that of his 5,600 mostly Hispanic immigrant factory employees, roughly 1,600 were suspected of being illegal immigrants. Charney and his employees were given 30 to 60 days to produce documentation proving their eligibility, but the vast majority of workers were unable to provide any such documentation.

 American Apparel's "Legalize LA" line of T-shirts promotes immigration reform.

American Apparel's "Legalize LA" line of T-shirts promotes immigration reform.

Charney has been an outspoken supporter of immigration reform, organizing several Los Angeles based protests for the cause and creating a line of T-Shirts sold at his stores bearing the slogan “Legalize LA”. In a letter released to his employees, Charney stated: “I just cry when I think that so many people will be leaving the company.”  He also assured workers that “when [they] are able to get [their] immigration papers in order, [they] will be given priority treatment, in terms of being interviewed for future positions with the company.”  The CEO, who has come under fire in the past because of a sexual harassment suit filed against him, expressed his disappointment with the Obama administration’s steps towards immigration reform and vowed to continue his campaign.

American Apparel is likely to face fines, upwards of $800 per each employee. According to the ICE, this is the standard practice for all cases, although it is “incumbent upon the employer to determine the appropriate next steps.”  Starting on September 8th, the ICE’s investigations will become a bit easier thanks to the launch of the electronic system know as E-Verify. It will be required for all contractors and subcontractors to log into the system and verify the employment eligibility of all new employees. The ICE is convinced that E-Verify will streamline the process of immigration reform and make it a more humane one. However, opponents to the new system say it encourages racial profiling. Either way, it is clear that the American Apparel layoffs are an early indication of the challenges that the Obama administration’s restructuring of the immigration system will face.

Charney has organized several protests in Los Angles calling for immigration reform.

Charney has organized several protests in Los Angles calling for immigration reform.

Whether or not Charney will step up his campaign for immigration reform remains to be seen, but many view his plight as little more than a glorified PR campaign from a man who uses ad campaigns of questionable sexual nature to promote his brand. However, take a look at Charney’s recent interview with VBS TV on the subject and what is clear is that immigration reform will continue to be an issue that American Apparel, and fashion as a whole, has an undeniable interest in.

What do you think? Is Charney just a pervy CEO looking for some press? Or is his interest in immigration reform the real deal? Make sure to comment and let us know how you think Obama’s new reforms, including E Verify, affect the fashion industry!

(Via Associated Press)

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