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Garment Maker on ‘Good Guy’ List Raided

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an embarrassment to the U.S. Labor Department, state investigators Tuesday raided an El Monte garment contractor that makes clothes for Limited Inc., one of the federal government’s so-called good-guy apparel makers that consumers were encouraged to support.

The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement filed citations against the contractor, Italy International Corp., that include allegations of multiple overtime and minimum-wage violations, using an underage worker, paying in cash and taking kickbacks from some workers.

State officials said they fined the contractor $21,000.

The owner of Italy International, Juan Li, denied wrongdoing but declined to comment further. His legal representative, Jesse Atilano, a former state labor investigator who is now an industry consultant, said he will appeal the citations, which could eventually bring the case before an administrative law judge.

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State labor officials said some of Italy International’s clothes were made for Limited, one of about 30 businesses that U.S. labor officials said were taking extra steps to ensure their merchandise was made in law-abiding factories.

The citations issued Tuesday are part of a broader crackdown in Los Angeles and El Monte, which has come under scrutiny since last summer’s discovery of a garment compound where 72 Thai workers were allegedly held in virtual slavery.

In fact, the good-guy list was largely a response to that case.

The list, released last December, was initially criticized for leaving out many other reputable companies. The citations Tuesday against Italy International presented more headaches for the Labor Department, which some thought went out on a limb by putting out such a list.

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“It isn’t a very good sign that the list means very much of anything,” said Jose Millan, the state’s interim labor commissioner, shortly after issuing the citations at Italy International.

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Al Dietzel, a spokesman for Limited, the Columbus, Ohio-based firm that operates the Limited stores, said he was unaware of Italy International. Dietzel said he would check into the contractor, one of thousands that Limited uses. “We’re very tough when we find a violator,” he said.

Said Tino Serrano, a Labor Department spokesman: “It’s disappointing to see the violations occurring. But the fact that they found violations is not evidence that Limited is not making a good-faith effort.”

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Serrano noted that the good-guy list was intended to squeeze out unlawful contractors by endorsing retailers and manufacturers that had taken extra steps to monitor contractors and educate suppliers about labor laws.

Nonetheless, the citations issued Tuesday against Italy International include some serious violations, including allegations that a 17-year-old girl was working at the shop without a work permit.

Also, state labor officials said one worker told them he worked 87 hours one week but only took home, in cash, $167--after paying a 10% kickback to the employer.

Labor officials, who raided Italy International on Tuesday morning, said the firm employs about 20 people. Inspectors alleged that sewers received minimum wage but were not paid overtime. Trimmers and pressers got neither minimum wage nor overtime, they said.

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Atilano, the contractor’s consultant, argued that state officials illegally inspected the factory even though the owner told the investigators to leave and return with a warrant. Millan denied that allegation.


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