Laid-off American Apparel workers speak out about lawsuit

American Apparel workers vent their frustrations over recent layoffs of about 180 employees

A few dozen American Apparel workers gathered outside the company's headquarters in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday to vent their frustrations over the recent layoffs of about 180 employees, mostly in manufacturing.

The factory workers, who stood on a street corner near American Apparel's salmon pink building, said they were increasingly unhappy over recent changes at the retailer, which has gone through a year of turmoil that included a new chief executive, Paula Schneider, after founder Dov Charney was fired in December.

Sewing machine operator Dominga Valencia, 57, said she was angry that American Apparel gave her no notice of her layoff this month. Valencia said she is struggling to pay bills; her 22-year-old daughter goes to school and does not work either.

"I feel defrauded, depressed," Valencia said.

The layoffs -- which CEO Schneider described as necessary to cut costs at the floundering company -- have already inspired some workers including Valencia to file a lawsuit. Filed last week in the Central District of California, the suit accuses American Apparel of failing to give adequate notice before laying off workers.

The complaint seeks class-action status on behalf of employees who were let go this month in a layoff that American Apparel said affected about 180 employees. That accounts for 3.8% of the company's approximately 4,800 manufacturing and office workers in the Southland.

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FOR THE RECORD

April 21, 4:26 p.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly said there have been 10 complaints filed against American Apparel with the National Labor Relations Board. There have only been nine.

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Nine workers have also filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the company's security guards and supervisors intimidated workers who are seeking to organize to push for a stop to work furloughs and layoffs.

In response, American Apparel said the lawsuit is "absolutely without merit and misleading."

"We are dedicated to a culture of free speech and social commentary, and respect our employees’ right to speak out," the company said Tuesday. "Workers' rights and respect for our employees are core principles of American Apparel."

American Apparel also noted that layoffs occurred when Charney was CEO. The clothing company said 160 workers were laid off in 2013 and an additional 238 lost their jobs in the early half of 2014, before Charney was suspended as CEO.

Schneider said the layoffs were necessary to improve the precarious finances of the company. American Apparel has lost about $340 million in the last five years and has more than $200 million in debt.

"We're in a turnaround," she told The Times this month. "This is a company that hasn't made money in years.

Schneider also said the company plans to improve healthcare benefits and offer a 401(k) plan in the second half of the year, as well as offering paid holidays and sick days.

Follow Shan Li on Twitter @ShanLi

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