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Makers of Guess Jeans Exploit Women Workers, Protesters Say

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bluejeans that bear the Guess label come at the expense of poor, exploited women who work under inhumane conditions, a group of union organizers told shoppers at South Coast Plaza on Saturday.

The demonstration, organized by Union Summer, a student program of the AFL-CIO and the Students Stop Sweatshops group, was one of 14 in the past week that started a national back-to-school boycott of Guess.

While the demonstration went on, teen-age girls browsed through the Guess shop inside Macy’s where jeans cost $58 and nylon pants sell for $112.

Outside, the group of about two dozen college students, labor organizers and garment workers talked of how the people who make the clothes are paid as little as 3 cents per pocket flap.

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“These people are deceived when they buy Guess because they pay so little to their workers and charge so much from the shoppers,” said Enriqueta Sota, 36, who explained that she worked for 11 years in a Los Angeles garment district sweatshop before being fired for organizing a union.

“When you’re only paid 3 cents for a pocket flap, you have to do a lot of sewing to make any money, much more than you can do in eight hours,” Sota said. “Sometimes I would make as little as $100 a week.”

There was no answer at the Guess corporate offices in Los Angeles on Saturday.

Employees at the Guess store at South Coast Plaza declined to comment.

Demonstrators hope that having college students protest will have some influence with Guess’ younger patrons.

“I feel like our voices will really make a difference,” said Hernan De Santos, a Santa Ana resident attending UCLA.

While the students demonstrated, drivers frequently honked their horns in support.

De Santos said he went to a sweatshop for the first time earlier this month and was appalled at what he saw.

“There are shops where they make the workers work eight hours without taking a break, and then the workers take stuff home to keep working,” De Santos said. “It’s so sad; most of the people are scared about what’s going to happen to them and they don’t know their rights.”

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In the past four years, Guess has been connected with several labor violations.

In March, Labor Department officials said in a quarterly enforcement report that they had found minimum-wage and overtime pay violations involving contractors doing work for the company.

At that time, a Guess lawyer said the violations were old cases that had been resolved.

About a year ago, a group of garment workers filed a class-action wage and hour lawsuit against Guess and 16 of its contractors seeking millions of dollars in back pay and punitive damages. The case has not been resolved.

Last month, the state Department of Labor Standards Enforcement raided five illegal industrial home operations linked to four Guess contractors. Guess officials said that, while two of the home workers were employed by contractors that do some work for the company, none for the seized goods had Guess labels or could be tied to Guess.


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