Rutten on American Apparel firings

As a follow up to my post about American Apparel having little choice but to comply with the Obama administration’s order forcing employers to fire undocumented workers, I want to call attention to Tim Rutten’s opinion column in today’s LA Times.

Rutten speaks to the questionable humanity of the new procedure to deal with illegal immigration that will do nothing to provide the underlying necessity, an overhaul of immigration policy. In fact, as the new procedure eliminates the raids and deportations of the past, it will add to an ongoing one: unscrupulous companies that will hire, underpay, overwork and mistreat displaced workers to save a buck.

The administration seems to be choosing the lesser of two evils here, allowing undocumented workers to remain in the US, assumedly so they can act on getting  legal, rather than deportation. In the interim, they will have to deal with finding a  way to survive and support their families.

Rutten quotes one of the fired American Apparel’s workers here in Los Angeles who says he will “go back to one of those sweatshops where I’m going to have to get paid under the table.”

There will still be those of the Neanderthal “too bad–should have stayed in Mexico” mindset who will remain unmoved, but if they take the time to read Rutten’s column, at least they can’t say they never were confronted by the concept of compassion and its glaring necessity as a component of reform.

13 thoughts on “Rutten on American Apparel firings”

  1. I’m not sure why it’s paleolithic to expect that people should fully consider the consequences of moving to a place before undertaking the journey. Leaving aside the children of illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents, illegal immigrants in the United States came to the country knowing that they were doing so improperly and knowing that they could not work legally upon arrival. The degree of compassion I’m willing to grant in this situation is that these are human beings and they deserve to be protected from violence and shouldn’t have to suffer from racism, but they simply aren’t allowed to work here and I’m not going to feel especially sad about that. They can either work illegally, and suffer the unfortunate consequences that come with that, or they can move to a place where they can work legally.

    I’m in favor of completely open borders. I have no problem letting basically the entire nation of Mexico move into the United States and work here legally, but that’s not the system we have now and there’s no reason to expect the government or employers to act as if it were. If you came to the United States illegally, you are not permitted to work here. If you are an employer, you’re not allowed to hire an illegal immigrant. When the law changes, then the compassion will start, but until that point everyone who is simply willfully ignoring and/or violating the law shouldn’t expect sympathy or compassion, I save that for people who follow the rules and still face the indignities of unemployment.

  2. ‘the Neanderthal “too bad–should have stayed in Mexico” mindset’

    You have it backwards–respect of and accountability to law is the basis of advanced societies. Condoning law breaking is the basis of corrupt and backward societies.

  3. Leaving aside the larger issues about immigration law, if AA could figure out now, after the fact and after an ultimatum from the federal government, which of its workers are “undocumented,” couldn’t AA have figured that out before hiring those workers, as required by law, by undertaking the same review it is now presumably taking to determine which workers to fire?

    If the answer is yes, then why is AA and any other similarly situated company not being prosecuted outright? Who the hell gets only a warning when they are caught (or at least are suspected of) violating a federal statute?

  4. Matt, believe it or not, that’s the problem in a nutshell. It was the government who comes in with boxes of papers and tells employers which of their workers is illegal and has fake documents. There is no central electronic database for companies to use. Since a company like American Apparel isn’t using “illegal” label for exploitative purposes, you can bet they would have avoided the problem if they could of.

    Therein lies the real mess that is 2009 immigration policy in the US. Employers are hamstrung and actually unable verify the status of their employees, putting them at risk of violating the law.

  5. Thank you for pointing out the humanity angle here and I applaud Rutten for doing the same. I don’t know if you read/saw Mr. Charney’s photo essay about marching with the workers but it’s pretty touching. To the commentors above, I say that if this is what enforcing the “law” brings us, we ought to think seriously about the validity of that law.

  6. Jenn, the law contains an “employment verification system” which includes a list of “documents establishing both employment authorization and identity.” The law requires employers to check for this proof before hiring someone (or, put another way, it holds employers liable if they don’t check and they hire an undocumented worker, which means, duh, employers need to check). If the employers cannot verify this information, it’s illegal for them to hire the worker. They are not permitted to sit around and either play dumb, wink twice, or fail to due their due diligence and just wait for the government to tell them later that a worker is undocumented. The fact that there is no “central” database of immigration, residency, or citizenship status information is irrelevant.

  7. By all means, let’s change the law. But for the time being, people shouldn’t act surprised when it’s enforced.

  8. The flawed logic I see is the assumption that undocumented workers aren’t being exploited by American Apparel in the first place.
    If AA has been hiring a large number of illegal immigrants, it isn’t out of compassion. Its because its the cheapest labor they can get.
    I’m not going to criticize AA for their hiring practices – but echoing the above, both the company and its employers shouldn’t whine when the laws that other businesses do follow are enforced.
    But mainly, the exploitive spin they’re trying to put on it is disgusting.

  9. If you spend some time researching AA and especially Dov you find that this guy has a long history of sexual harassment claims and settlements. I would direct you to his interview in Women’s Wear Daily where he’s getting sucked off by a female employee in the middle of interview. As evidenced by the raid Dov hires many illegal immigrants but says he gives them decent wages, benefits and hours, when nothing could be further from the truth, but it makes for a great brand image and marketing to promote himself in that light. Do some research talk to more employees who have been forced out of the company or find some that are not afraid to talk and the truth will come to light. Dov is a very sophisticated spin-meister and you just swallowed the turd he fed you…

  10. I think JY’s comments just speak to the superficial nature of Dov Charney.

    But on a more immediate, tangible level, forcing more people out of work right now with social services being overwhelmed is a very poor idea. Its unlikely it will result in the undocumented workers packing up their families and returning to their home countries, and instead just places a larger burden on everyone.

    On the flip side, if you’re looking for a job at American Apparel, I hear there are a large number of openings.

  11. CP got it on the raid. Sex panic is probably what a lot of women feel when the bespectacled bridge troll comes down the halls of American Apparel. It goes beyond his superficial nature as it creates a pervasive environment for sexual harassment that is in its own form is a civil rights violation and is as egregious as many of the other sweat shop practices that take place in the garment industry in LA. Dov has been charged and settled many sexual harassment suits brought against him by his own employees and those that don’t like his behavior are eventually forced out of American Apparel.

    I’m all for what American Apparel can represent as a powerful way to keep garment jobs in Los Angeles/USA, but the reality of the competitive nature of the apparel business is that eventually many of the best practices in product quality, wages, work environment are eroded away to remain competitive with offshore labor costs. AA early in its infancy made more money in terms of operating profit than much larger Hanes Brands, an incredible feat, but AA has come down to earth and now is run on very narrow profit margins and is hemorrhaging money. Some of it due to Dov’s mismanagement and some due to external factors, but the net effect is that he too has no choice to sirupticiously follow the more unsavory business practices in order to stay in business.

    AA continues to be represented as a beacon of hope in the US Apparel Industry, but the reality is its not any better or any worse than many of the fucked up business and employment practices that happen in the apparel industry, although Dov would certainly like you to think they are the exception.

    Los Angeles and the Federal government must be willing to provide more support to keeping apparel companies, this includes large and small manufacturers in LA and the country, through increased training for workers so LA and the rest of the country can keep it apparel workers competitive on the cutting edge of new technologies that can’t be done as easily overseas. Consumers must also be more open to being a bit more selective in products and goods that they buy and perhaps pay a bit more or the overall decline in the apparel industry will not change and wages for workers illegal or not will remain under pressure and apparel jobs will continue to leave Los Angeles and the USA for more competitive climes.

    For those of those interested in supporting local designers and small up and coming apparel companies I would direct you to Fashion Business Inc. its a good organization

  12. Why bother having an apparel industry in the US if the workers are 90% foreign — as it the owner of AA? There is certainly no reason to have a low value added industry like apparel in one of the most expensive areas to live in the US. Simply running the numbers will show that workers getting paid $10-12/hr are not even coming close to paying their way in California in terms of taxes, especially if they have children. Charney would have been better off immigrating to Mexico and building his business there — of course then he wouldn’t be able to enjoy all the benefits of US society — respect for law and order being one of those.

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