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Twenty Days of Harassment and Racism as an American Apparel Employee

Twenty Days of Harassment and Racism as an American Apparel EmployeeEXPAND

When I graduated college I moved to a new city and wanted a low-stress job that would allow me time to focus on creative projects. I knew people who had worked for American Apparel in the past, both in sales and at the LA headquarters, so I decided to interview for a part-time position.

My friends had had mixed experiences. I was drawn to the company because I try to make ethical consumer decisions, and I appreciated that American Apparel pays their garment workers well and doesn’t use sweatshops. But I was also very wary of the sexual harassment allegations against the company’s former CEO, Dov Charney. Because he had recently been asked to step down from his position, it seemed like the company was making progress.

I decided to take a diary of my experience.

Interview process: The manager who interviews me seems mostly interested in whether I am “a good fit for the brand.” She asks questions about my modeling background, and emphasizes the importance of employees representing the company well through how they dress. She says the company likes to emphasize that they are “vertically integrated,” but doesn’t know what the term means.

July 22: On my first day, my manager instructs me on how to seek out potential shoplifters: “Look out for black girls, because they’re always the ones shoplifting.” She says, “I know it’s a stereotype, but it’s true.”

July 23: One of my coworkers insists that Dov Charney should not be blamed for the sexual harassment of employees because “it’s not like he raped them” and “it seems like they were into it, too.” She says that people often come into the store and ask employees what they think about their CEO being known for sexual harassment, and she “doesn’t understand why they make such an issue out of it.”

July 24: A coworker confirms my observation that the manager profiles shoppers and employees, by both race and attractiveness. “Every time a girl drops off her resume, the first thing she asks me is if the girl was cute,” she tells me. “And she never hires black girls. We only have one, and she works in back stock.” At American Apparel, there’s an emphasis on having “the right kind of customer” wearing the clothes, and I notice that customers who fit the brand aesthetic (attractive, trendy) are helped with more enthusiasm.

July 25: A man asks for my help selecting underwear, and wants to know what size I think he is. I direct him to a size chart on the wall near the underwear. He offers to pay me to watch him try on underwear and let him know which I think are the best fit. When I tell a coworker, she’s unconcerned. She says that at American Apparel, this “just happens” and that I shouldn’t let it get to me.

July 29: While assisting a customer into a fitting room, the manager passes me a note that says “WATCH HER ITEMS!!!” The customer is black. It’s clear that racial profiling not only occurred regularly, but that as an employee was expected to enforce it.

August 6: A coworker comes to the break room visibly upset. When I ask her what’s bothering her, she says that while helping a man find clothes for his wife, he told her to try them on for him since she and his wife were about the same size. She wasn’t comfortable doing it, since he picked out lots of mesh/sheer items that are intended to be worn without a bra, but she felt like it was her job to help him. When she tried the items on and came out of the fitting room, covering herself, he pulled her arms down so that her breasts were exposed. He then slipped a twenty dollar bill into her pants.

Trembling and upset, she told the manager what happened. The manager replied, “Well, it seems like he’s gone now.” There did not seem to be a protocol for employees who are sexually harassed, and the manager was completely unconcerned when an employee expressed distress over harassment. She was not allowed to leave work early, and she felt like the clothes she was wearing were partially to blame. “It’s because we wear this stuff,” she tells me, gesturing to her backless dress.

August 10: A coworker tells me that the man who harassed the salesperson at the fitting rooms had returned and asked another girl to try clothes on for him. She was also uncomfortable with this, but the manager told her she could do it as long as she wore something underneath, even though she knew that a girl had been harassed in this situation just days before. Another worker called the police upon recognizing the man; the cops encouraged everyone to ask the man to leave next time he showed up.

August 11: I quit the job without giving notice. I know it’s unprofessional, but I feel like the work environment was toxic enough that I shouldn’t spend any more time there for my own well-being. I’ve been deeply disturbed and upset by these unprofessional behaviors that seemed to be accepted by my coworkers and managers, and by the sexualized role that employees were expected to play in the selling of clothes.

I knew this was a design-oriented company, and that appearances are important to the brand. But I didn’t realize is just how image-obsessed the employees and customers were going to be. The climate is hyper-sexual, and employees were expected to fit that image—even to the point of trying clothes on for customers. Workers are considered be models or representatives of the brand, and the managers were really concerned with how their female employees were wearing the clothes. It seemed to work—all of the employees were obsessed with the clothes, trying things on and painting their nails while they were clocked in and spending significant portions of their paychecks on American Apparel merchandise.

In retrospect, I should’ve been more wary of a company with a history of outrageous unprofessionalism. What I hoped would be a low-stress, part-time job turned out to be a major source of anxiety and a cesspool of harassment. The incompetent, appallingly racist management and belittling of employees were commonplace, and created a hostile work environment.

It’s unfortunate that American Apparel requires employees to sign agreements saying they won’t speak ill of the company upon leaving. I’m sure that there are many upset employees (including some that I worked with) that are afraid to speak out.

But it seems like in order to have a positive experience working at American Apparel, one must be quite loyal to the brand and the image that the brand aspires to. Many of my coworkers found community with each other, and emphasized that they enjoyed working there because it allowed them to meet like-minded people. They obsessed over the clothes together, tried things on together, created outfits for going out together. There’s nothing wrong with that. But because of this enthusiasm, the employees often seemed willing to overlook the ways in which their workplace was profoundly unprofessional, or the ways in which they were being flat-out abused by managers and customers. While I was enthusiastic about certain aspects of the company, they simply were not enough for me to look past the practices I encountered.

August 20: Over a week after quitting my job, I still had not received my last paycheck, and had to threaten to report them to the labor board. The check was shipped to me overnight.

Sourced from Gawker.com


Lidl worker ‘bullied out of job after blowing the whistle on defrosted and mouldy food being sold to customers when fridges and freezers were turned off’

  • Matthew O’Donnell forced out of his job after blowing whistle, tribunal hears
  • The 28-year-old claims he spotted ‘mouldy’ produce at the Hanham store
  • Later said he was made to ‘scan faster’ on tills or face disciplinary for poor performance
  • Lidl has accused him of ‘grossly misinterpreting the situation’ last year

A Lidl employee was forced out of his job after he blew the whistle on ‘degenerated and mouldy’ food being sold to customers, an employment tribunal heard.

Matthew O’Donnell, 28, alerted senior managers after he spotted defrosted products on sale alongside mouldy fruit and vegetables at a store in Hanham, Gloucestershire, it was said.

He claims the stock was compromised after the fridges and freezers were turned off for more than four hours during a heatwave for maintenance.

Matthew O'Donnell, pictured outside the Lidl store in Hanham, Gloucestershire, has claimed he reported mouldy fruit at the shop


Matthew O’Donnell, pictured outside the Lidl store in Hanham, Gloucestershire, has claimed he reported mouldy fruit at the shop

But the products were still on sale the next day and Mr O’Donnell claimed customers were even directed towards the products to ‘maximise consumption’.

When the former employee made a complaint he says his concerns saw him bullied out of his job by bosses and co-workers after they were told he had ‘dropped them in it’, it is claimed.

He has now taken the company to an employment tribunal where a judge will decide whether he suffered detriment or dismissal for exercising his rights.

But Lidl has accused Mr O’Donnell of ‘grossly misinterpreting the situation’ and claims he left after finding he was not suited to the role.

Mr O’Donnell told the tribunal: ‘I stated I felt let down by the procedure, which meant every time I spoke up to alert management to hazards I was always being penalised with harassment and loss of hours.

‘I had simply had enough.’

The tribunal in Bristol heard that Mr O’Donnell took up a job at the city’s Hanham store on June 8 last year after moving from Wales.

He described how, during a night shift on July 7, an electrical contractor began upgrading electrics and the power was switched off for ‘over four hours’.

He said: ‘The loss of power resulted in store deliveries being unable to be processed safely, chill cabinets not being secured as well as freezers defaulting to defrost mode, which severely compromised the integrity of the food stocked within the store.’

Mr O'Donnell claimed the stock at Lidl, pictured, in Hanham, Gloucestershire was compromised after the fridges and freezers were turned off for more than four hours during a heatwave for maintenance


Mr O’Donnell claimed the stock at Lidl, pictured, in Hanham, Gloucestershire was compromised after the fridges and freezers were turned off for more than four hours during a heatwave for maintenance

He said when he returned to work the next day he found mould in the fruit and vegetable section and products ‘seriously degenerated’, four days prior to their use-by date.

Mr O’Donnell then sent a report to senior Lidl officials, believing he would be protected from victimisation by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.

He said he told managers he felt that he was responsible if anything happened to members of the public.

But Mr O’Donnell, from Kingswood, Bristol, claims his initial complaints were dismissed by store manager Krysztof Golanski who said he was told by electricians that power was only down for two hours – the maximum allowed under company policy.

He then took his complaints to personnel department at the company’s regional distribution centre in Weston-super-Mare.

‘Every time I spoke up I was always being penalised with harassment and loss of house,’ Matthew O’Donnell tells tribunal

The tribunal heard that Mr O’Donnell claims when he returned to work he became aware that Mr Golanski had advised all staff that he had ‘dropped them in it’.

He said he found himself axed from shifts and ‘ostracised due to malicious rumour-mongering’.

He claims he faced extra pressure at work, such as being told to scan faster on the tills or face a disciplinary for poor performance.

His situation got so bad that Mr O’Donnell said he was forced to hand in a resignation letter, on September 9, due to the ‘lack of support and ongoing hostility, especially with ongoing food hygiene failures and lack of meaningful resolution of the dispute’.

Smair Soor, a barrister representing Lidl, told Mr O’Donnell under cross examination that his version of events was a ‘gross misinterpretation’ of the facts.

He added: ‘It might be that you didn’t find working in retail convivial. You had long queues and felt under pressure by your performance.’

The tribunal also heard that Mr O’Donnell was told he could be sacked after taking complaints about the food to senior company officials.

Giving evidence, store manager Mr Golanski said the threats had not been intentional and were instead taken in the wrong way.

The tribunal was expected to finish today.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/


An Overwhelming Number Of Fast Food Workers Report Getting Ripped Off By Their Bosses: Poll

Macdonalds Sales

Before she got fed up and quit last month, it wasn’t uncommon for Darenisha Mills to keep working after her shift ended at the McDonald’s in Pontiac, Mich., where she was a cashier.

“They’re asking you to clean the bathrooms, sweep the lobby, run the register,” the 26-year-old told The Huffington Post, “but they don’t pay you anything for the time you work over.”

The formal name for that is wage theft, which occurs when an employer withholds pay rightfully earned by an hourly worker. It happens in a variety of ways, from not paying for overtime, to denying mandated breaks, to subtracting hours from employees’ weekly total.

A recent poll commissioned by labor group Fast Food Forward estimates that a stunning 89 percent of fast-food workers have experienced at least one form of wage theft. A previous study, conducted in the first half of 2008 before the recession, found 68 percent of low-wage workers had been victims of wage theft in their previous work week, and estimated that wage theft cost workers an average of $2,634 annually.

“The survey [from Fast Food Forward] lays bare the fact that wage theft is rampant,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, an attorney with the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers and performed the 2008 survey. “It’s pervasive throughout our economy.”

“They want to keep labor costs very low,” said Kwanza Brooks, 37, who was a McDonald’s manager for over a decade in Maryland and North Carolina before quitting a couple years ago. “Taking the wages was the only way they could control it,” says Brooks, who now volunteers for Fast Food Forward in Charlotte.

The Fast Food Forward poll found that 84 percent of McDonald’s workers who responded had experienced wage theft. Hart Research conducted the online survey between Feb. 15 and March 19 on behalf of “Low Pay Is Not OK,” a campaign affiliated with Fast Food Forward. The poll surveyed 1,088 fast food employees, including workers at Wendy’s and Burger King, in the top 10 metro areas nationally.

McDonald’s cautioned against drawing broad conclusions from the survey. In a statement the company called it a “small, random informal sampling.” The company said it believed workers should be paid correctly.

McDonald’s and its franchisees are now facing six lawsuits in three states, involving tens of thousands of employees, claiming various wage theft violations.

Wage theft can become increasingly common in times of high unemployment, experts say. “When people are desperate for jobs, they’re afraid to risk them by taking on their boss,” said Ross Eisenbrey, of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.

And because the amounts of wages being withheld are often small, it can be hard for a low-wage worker to find an attorney willing to take their case.

For their part, fast-food managers are under “tremendous pressure” to keep labor costs low, especially when sales are sluggish, said Nelson Lichtenstein, the director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Companies may also engage in the practice when the risk of getting caught is low. There aren’t nearly enough U.S. Department of Labor investigators to enforce the laws, said Gebreselassie. He added, “The chance any worksite will be investigated is miniscule.”

Nevertheless, the issue of wage theft has been getting increased attention in recent months. In March, the owner of seven McDonald’s restaurants in New York was ordered to pay almost $500,000 to more than 1,000 employees who performed work off the clock and had other pay illegally withheld.

The restaurant chain’s sales have been slumping of late, and executives acknowledged recently that the company’s menu had grown complicated and less appealing to customers.


Sourced from thehuffingtonpost.com