When American Apparel workers faced losing their jobs because of immigration violations, Santa Ana nonprofit Hermandad Mexicana was there to help workers get green cards and other papers.
Now, as employees of the downtown L.A. clothing maker say they’re facing reduced hours, lower wages and a change in corporate leadership that has many concerned about their jobs, the immigrants’ rights group is again playing a major role at the company, attempting to unionize workers there.
Nativo Lopez, a senior adviser with Hermandad Mexicana, said workers have taken the first step toward forming a union, circulating cards that employees can sign to indicate their support for unionization.
If 75 percent of American Apparel’s roughly 4,500 employees in Los Angeles and Orange counties sign and return cards, Lopez said workers would then elect delegates and ask American Apparel management to be recognized as a union. The workers targeted for unionization include sewers, janitors, clerks and distribution staff.
Newly installed Chief Executive Paula Schneider told the Business Journal that the company supports workers’ rights to express their views and that executives are committed to engaging in an active dialogue with them.
She also said that management is working to save the company, which has faced financial losses for years and is deeply indebted.
“We remain steadfast in our commitment to preserve 3,300 jobs in downtown L.A. and 10,000 jobs throughout the nation and abroad, while continuing to pay fair wages,” Schneider said.
In their union drive, Hermandad Mexicana and workers have the support of Dov Charney, the American Apparel founder and former chief executive who was fired for misconduct last year. Charney spoke at a Hermandad-organized rally earlier this month and said he’s helped his now former employees organize meetings to talk about changes at the company since his dismissal.
But while Charney has said he wants to regain control of American Apparel, and while a union could prove annoying to the board that fired him, he told the Business Journal his support for workers has nothing to do with his desire to return.
“This is not my movement,” he said.
He said pro-union workers are getting most of their help from Hermandad and Lopez. Workers trust Lopez and his organization because they helped many American Apparel employees obtain documents they needed to continue working in the United States. That was between 2007 and 2010, when American Apparel was the subject of a federal immigration audit.
“They trust Nativo because his organization has been there through the darkest times,” Charney said.