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There's one phrase you're guaranteed to hear if you walk past American Apparel's headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, on the outskirts of Skid Row, on a Wednesday afternoon: "¡Sí, se puede!" ("Yes, we can!")
Coined by labor leaders Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in 1972, it's been a rallying cry for unions ever since. The phrase is usually accompanied by a fist punching the sky, the message crossing language and literacy barriers.
The words are repeated over and over again as Stephanie Padilha, the president of the General Brotherhood of Workers for American Apparel, a group that claims to be organizing 3,000 workers in a dogged attempt to reinstate Dov Charney as CEO of the company, passes out stickers to a wave of factory workers getting off their shifts.
"Come to the protest at three!" Padilha shouts in Spanish, loud enough to make one of the factory's security guards turn and glare. "Enough with the lies from Paula!"
Padilha is an incredibly easy person to pick out of a crowd. Today she's wearing a white T-shirt underneath a pair of white denim overalls, offsetting a tumble of red curls that adds inches to her frame and has earned her the rather uninspired nickname "Red Hair" among American Apparel's security team.
She grew up in Brazil, where she used to run a blog that got attention from MTV and Vogue. After graduating from college in 2011, Padilha took a job working in backstock at an American Apparel store in São Paulo. When the company offered her a place at its corporate headquarters as a visual merchandiser two years ago, she moved to LA in hopes of establishing a more secure career for herself. Padilha was fired from her position in mid-August, days after she had been elected president of the makeshift union.
She knows what she's doing is baffling to people on the outside, but she only accepts that view as one crafted by the press — one that she says has been blinded by lies spun by Paula Schneider, American Apparel's current CEO, who joined the company in January.
"We're making this happen because we know that something was wrong and we're trying to fix it," Padilha explains. "And you know, we're working hard, we're not criminals, we're not doing anything wrong. So the best will come to us."
Today, like every Wednesday afternoon, Padilha and Jan Hubner, one of the 11 GBWAA trustees, haul dozens of picket signs bearing slogans like "DOV WOULDN'T LET THIS HAPPEN TO US" and "BRING BACK DOV!" into the American Apparel factory parking lot, piling them in short stacks on the asphalt so protestors can easily sift through and grab a favorite when they arrive. Hubner carries in a portable microphone and speaker set and blasts mariachi music as the workers begin to gather.
The factory's isolated location is a surprise. For a rebel group taking on the largest clothing manufacturer in the US, it seems strange they choose to take a stand here, in the parking lot, surrounded by hundreds of empty cars, facing a towering salmon pink building that does nothing but echo shouts of "¡Sí, se puede!" back at the crowd.
For a rebel group taking on the largest clothing manufacturer in the US, it seems strange they choose to take a stand here, in the parking lot.
But then Padilha gives me the tour. We stand facing the factory and she starts to point. In the far left corner is the factory boutique. It's the one spot on the ground floor that hasn't been fenced off in the past couple of months, so customers can still get through. Count five gigantic windows up and a few more over — that's the lunchroom, where some workers are eating. Count two more up, and that's where the new management has relocated its offices and, from some workers' perspectives, shut themselves off from the rest of the factory.
That window with the lamp in it? That's Schneider's office, although Padilha says she doesn't come in on Wednesdays anymore. And quickly, look at the set of windows to the left, where the curtain is closing. That's where a member of human resources stands and observes the protesters, taking note of who's in the crowd. (American Apparel denies this, but the group has posted photographic evidence of the surveillance. On the day I visit, I see people watching there too.)
The GBWAA documents its own moves on a site called Save American Apparel, where visitors can find links to a slew of lawsuits that have been filed against the company, open letters from former and current employees criticizing their employer, and interactive charts detailing how American Apparel's stock and sales have plummeted this year.
I've clicked on all those links, as well as just about every protest video that has been uploaded to Save American Apparel's YouTube page; I've seen every clip that's been posted on Instagram, flipped through every album on Facebook. I know that the police have been called to the factory during protests in the past. I'm expecting aggression and hostility — these people are, after all, parading in front of the place where some of them work, if they haven't yet been fired, shouting for Schneider's resignation. They've been doing it since May, and nothing has changed.
Nativo Lopez, another GBWAA trustee, calls everyone together. About 100 people have shown up, with signs and whistles and handheld noisemakers that make a loud clicking sound when you spin them around. The majority of the protesters are older Latina women, women who have supported themselves for years by sewing your American Apparel crop tops. Very few people in the crowd are under the age of 35, with the exception of some of the workers' children and grandchildren who have been brought to the protest. If anything, the mood is... jovial? One woman leads the crowd in a song about how Charney loves them. Padilha points me towards people laughing with each other, saying that they just got fired and I should speak with them.
It's Lopez who does most of the talking this afternoon. He reads from the latest issue of the group's weekly newsletter, which is focused on mounting support for a factory strike. When he beckons the crowd to draw nearer, we all shuffle into a quiet half circle, listening to him talk about people still trapped on the inside.
"They're poisoned by Lupe Cruz, Paula, Marty, or simply because they love being slaves to others," he says in Spanish, the microphone carrying his words across the parking lot and up over the fence surrounding the factory. "And yes there are people like that, people who are already tamed, domesticated, and they live all their lives like that. Tamed. And they even teach their children to walk through life tamed, domesticated, controlled. But here, we have free people. People with bravery, desire, who are committed, and who are on the side of truth."
The protestors' love for Charney is a thing to behold. When the GBWAA ran out of money to produce the official "Save our company!" T-shirts with "I ♥ DOV" printed across the back, members started making their own shirts that call out Schneider and the company's board of directors. The picket signs demand nothing less than Charney's full reinstatement as CEO of American Apparel. But Padilha emphasizes that the group's enthusiasm for American Apparel's founder isn't irrational. "It's not like he's a god and we're a bunch of people in a cult or something," she says. "It's not that — there's only one God for these people."
"It's not like he's a god and we're a bunch of people in a cult or something. It's not that — there's only one God for these people."
When Padilha and I first spoke, before American Apparel filed for bankruptcy at the beginning of October, she told me that the group believed it could turn the company around in just five to six weeks if Charney was reinstated. Post-bankruptcy, not so much.
However, American Apparel's recent history is riddled with bankruptcy claims. Charney relocated the company to LA in 1997, eight years after he started selling T-shirts out of his dorm room at Tufts University. American Apparel grew quickly, launching its first retail location in Los Angeles's Echo Park neighborhood in 2003 and eventually laying claim to the largest apparel manufacturing facility in North America. It went public in 2007, but has almost gone bankrupt twice before, in 2009 and 2011.
According to the terms of this most recent bankruptcy filing, American Apparel is working its way through a six-month financial restructuring that involves giving debtors shares of the company in lieu of bond payments. Under this plan, current shareholders, including Charney, will see their stakes in the company completely disappear.
On the day that the filing was announced, American Apparel sent out an email blast to customers comparing its bankruptcy to that of 50 Cent or Bloomingdale's, which "continue to thrive as successful brands" despite having filed for Chapter 11. It assured customers that (most) stores would stay open and business would go on as usual. Within 24 hours, Padilha drafted a 1,000-word letter describing the bankruptcy from the GBWAA's perspective that she says she mailed to every American Apparel store in the world.
At the protest, Ana Hernandez, the group's secretary-treasurer who has been employed as a seamstress at the company for six years, describes Charney as someone who looked out for his workers. From her perspective, times were happier and money was easier to come by when he was running the company. "Dov is a great person, a strong man," she says. "I love him. His spirit is very, very strong."
She talks a bit about teaching herself English on her lunch breaks, which she also attributes to Charney. "It's very important to speak English because we are living in this great nation, so we have to learn English and speak English to each other," she says. "Dov says, 'You have to learn English, it's very important.' Thank you, Dov. Thank you so much."
I ask about Charney's predatory reputation in every interview, but it's not a primary concern to workers like Hernandez, who tells me that she's not going to be able to put a down payment on a house after all now that her paychecks have dwindled to $250 a week; she splits her earnings between herself and her sisters, who live in Mexico. It reminds me of a 2005 follow-up piece about American Apparel written by Claudine Ko, a reporter Charney famously masturbated in front of during an interview.
Ko describes revisiting the factory, where the company has arranged for her to speak with Yesenia Sandoval, a seamstress Ko interviewed for her first article. She asks if Sandoval has read or seen the published piece (which exploded in the mainstream media and has been referenced in pretty much every profile of Charney since). Sandoval says that she hasn't. After she leaves the room, Ko says she's surprised that Sandoval hadn't heard anything about it. "Gossip and sex stories — that's a luxury," an employee from the corporate office tells her. "Don't be such a white girl."
Charney made appearances at early GBWAA gatherings, and when he did, people went nuts. At a protest in late May, one of the workers carried Charney through the crowd on his shoulders as others high-fived him and pumped their fists in the air, screaming their approval. At a meeting in early July, there was a "Hugs With Dov" session. He doesn't show up to the meetings or protests anymore, Padilha explains, because he doesn't want to fuel speculation that he's the one organizing the group. However, he did make a quick appearance on November 4th, the same day our photographer happened to document the rally.
"The workers kept asking him to come to the protest, so he surprised all of us."
"It was great that he showed up yesterday for a few minutes," Padilha tells me over email the following day. "The company was saying that he was organizing the whole campaign, and because of lawsuits he was keeping distant to not get in our way with the union efforts, but the workers kept asking him to come to the protest, so he surprised all of us."
Charney's behavior stands in stark contrast to what happened the last time American Apparel's factory workers tried to unionize. In 2003, Charney allegedly did all he could to block the union from forming, including organizing an anti-union protest and threatening to shut down the factory if the workers did indeed unionize. Unite Here, a massive labor union with members in a wide variety of industries across the United States and Canada, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the way American Apparel was dealing with the union efforts; the claims were eventually settled out of court.
The following year, Charney denied any wrongdoing in an article published in the Los Angeles Business Journal. "To me, an anti-union effort is about frustrating workers rights to unionize by firing workers or limiting their job opportunities or threatening to close down a factory," Charney said at the time. "To say, ‘Let's appoint a union to represent the workers even further' may put into disequilibrium the delicate balance that I've created between all the parties."
This new unionization attempt has some feeling unsettled, not with American Apparel's handling of the situation, but with the GBWAA organizers themselves. Mariela Martinez is the organizing coordinator for the Garment Worker Center, an LA non-profit dedicated to helping organize low-wage garment workers. She says that while the center supports unionization in the industry, it is not taking a position on American Apparel's latest efforts.
"We are not the organization that is organizing these workers," she tells me. "We really don't know exactly what the motives of those organizers are, and therefore are waiting to see how it unfolds. We're trying to have conversations with workers from American Apparel outside of the [GBWAA] sphere to get insight from someone that's actually on the ground and dealing with these things, instead of from the folks who are promoting the campaign."
It's surprising, she says, that workers are trying to form a pro-Charney union now when he seemed set against unions in the past. "The good working conditions at American Apparel were at the discretion of the higher-ups, the CEO, who was Dov Charney at the time," Martinez says. "And now a lot of that image is being threatened by the new person, [Paula Schneider]. The workers are scared that she won't uphold the same standards or have the same good working conditions. That really is the problem with having conditions and wages set by the employer solely, where workers don't really have a say in working conditions and wages."
There are approximately 2,298 manufacturing employees working at American Apparel's downtown factory and 3,838 manufacturing employees overall, and the GBWAA claims to have 3,000 signatures of support. The group hasn't yet been fully recognized as a union, though. American Apparel has requested that an official election take place before workers can formally unionize. In September, the organizers completed an initial filing for union recognition with the US Department of Labor under the name General Brotherhood of Workers of American Apparel, but still has yet to go through the official voting process.
The group started amassing signatures for union support as early as February through a petition titled "I ♥ Dov."
Padilha and Hubner credit Lopez with founding the GBWAA, even though he was never actually employed by American Apparel. He has a long, controversial history as one of the city's most prominent immigration activists — the LA Times compared him to both Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton before he was convicted of voter registration fraud in 2011. He retired from public life a year later, although he tells me that the retirement announcement was misconstrued.
Hubner says that Lopez's ties with American Apparel go back to 2009, when approximately 1,800 workers were fired after a company-wide audit uncovered discrepancies in identity papers for over a quarter of the factory's workforce. At the time, Lopez stepped in to help secure the right documentation for some of the workers who were let go.
Six years later, Lopez has come back to push for unionization. "When he heard about what had happened to the company and Dov and how the workers were being affected financially, he said, 'This isn't right. I need to stand up and help these people,'" Hubner explains. "So he actually started this union." When I ask Lopez about founding the group, he says he prefers the credit go to Padilha and Hubner and the organization that he advises, Hermandad Mexicana. (Not this Hermandad Mexicana, nor this Hermandad Mexicana, but this Hermandad Mexicana.)
The group started amassing signatures for union support as early as February, about two months after Schneider became CEO, through a petition titled "I ♥ Dov." (There was a Facebook group created for the occasion, but it has since been taken down.) In early meetings, Lopez and Charney would address the workers, encouraging them to unionize. BuzzFeed News reported that at a meeting on February 28th, Charney told workers "it would be in their interest to have him reinstated as the head of American Apparel. He promised better working conditions, a return to the free-spirited culture that made the brand successful, an emphasis on loyalty to the factory workers."
The message was received enthusiastically by a workforce that has seen its hours cut, pay reduced, and holiday bonuses delayed in the months since Paula Schneider replaced Charney as American Apparel's new CEO. Not that the factory was not without problems under company founder Charney, who was suspended from American Apparel in June 2014 and eventually fired seven months later.
Reuters reported that some workers were optimistic about the change in leadership at first. One employee, José Barrera, said that during the last year of Charney's tenure, work had been slow and his wife, who also works at American Apparel, sometimes only worked three days a week. Another worker, David Williams, said that a raise he earned had been put on hold due to lack of work.
But under Schneider, conditions didn't improve. Workers were faced with significantly reduced pay due to lost hours and decreased piece rates (the amount that a worker makes per garment sewn), and some spoke of work furloughs that lasted for a week at a time. Many of their stories have been recorded on Save American Apparel's YouTube channel.
"I'm working two weeks, and then I have to stop for one," an anonymous employee says in a video posted in March. "And not even eight hours a day. I work seven hours a day for three days, and if there is no work, then they send you home, and we are not allowed to complain." Padilha sent me multiple pay stubs as well, showing weekly gross incomes of as little as $200 (in January 2015) and $337.50 (in August 2015), as opposed to $670 (in January 2014) and $725 (in December 2013).
Then the layoffs came. News of the first round dropped April 1st: 180 employees, mostly in manufacturing. Everyone was notified within two days. As the story gained momentum, American Apparel's PR department was quick to follow up with statements from Schneider to the press, along with unsolicited statistics on how many layoffs occurred during Charney's reign.
"Layoffs are not new to American Apparel," a bolded and highlighted section of the statement from Schneider read. "Under Dov Charney's leadership, in 2013, 160 employees were laid off and in 2014, prior to his departure in June, 238 employees were laid off. Of these groups, only 10 percent of employees were given severance pay. This week, our new management team is offering severance to every employee affected by the layoff." The last line was written in red.
Two weeks later, Charney's lawyer Keith Fink filed a class action lawsuit against the company, alleging that the laid-off workers never saw the severances Schneider promised. According to the complaint, a number of the garment workers were given forms to sign as soon as they were notified they were getting laid off. The forms were written in English and there were no translated copies available, nor was anyone made available to read the forms out loud. Once signed, the forms waived each worker's access to reasonable severance packages; instead, they were allegedly given payouts amounting to as little as $300 per person. American Apparel fired back that these claims were "absolutely without merit."
Conditions continued to deteriorate for the workers still on American Apparel's payroll. There were rumors that the on-site medical clinic, a hallmark of the company's lauded working conditions, was going to shut down (although it hasn't yet). English language classes held on the premises no longer exist. Holiday bonuses from 2014 were eight months overdue. A new retirement benefits plan, promised in an employee memo in June, has yet to be introduced. The company also promised an improved health benefits plan; instead, it cut employees' spouses from medical coverage in August.
In response, on August 19th, the protesters decided to do something a little different during their weekly rally. They made a life-size piñata of Schneider, complete with a mock orange Birkin bag etched with a black-markered dollar sign, and dragged it onto the parking lot. Two workers held up the piñata with a pole threaded through its head while others laid into it with a stick.
At the 3:28 mark in a video of the protest, the piñata's stomach rips apart, spilling out chocolate coins and paper money to represent "Paula's reckless decision to lead American Apparel into financial peril, all while making sure to enrich herself and her friends with undeserved monetary rewards." The intent was to shock, and it worked. When the video was released publicly, the media sat up and took notice.
"They are outside of the clock, it is a political theater, and there's Donald Trump piñatas everywhere! Everybody does that."
In the aftermath, several workers shown in the video were fired. A tall fence was constructed around the factory's first floor perimeter, and a banner is now draped over the fence so that people outside can't see into the first floor and vice versa. The three entrances through the fence are closely monitored by security guards. Attendance numbers at the protests dropped. People got scared.
"Why would they get fired?!" Padilha exclaims. "They are outside of the clock, it is a political theater, and there's Donald Trump piñatas everywhere! Everybody does that. There was no violence, nothing! We were just like, ‘We're gonna do something so that people can understand how frustrated we are right now.'"
"They felt very offended," Lopez says of American Apparel. "I said, 'Latino families have piñata parties every weekend. So what's the problem?' ‘Oh, you guys were too aggressive, hitting the piñata.' Come to some of our parties."
Five out of the fourteen GBWAA board members were fired in August, allegedly for their involvement with the group. (Hubner and Sophia Wu, the GBWAA's vice president, were fired along with other corporate employees in April.) Esmeralda Bermudez, one of the group's trustees, was fired on the same day as Padilha; she was told that it was for sending out GBWAA-related material via her work email during work hours. Now her image has been immortalized on picket signs and on Save American Apparel as the face of worker injustice.
One of the trustees who was fired after the piñata incident, Fabielo Ajtun, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. He says that when the NLRB called to get his side of the story, the interviewer told him that American Apparel claimed he was an alcoholic, which they cited as the reason for the firing.
"How far will they go to blame someone so they don't have to give them unemployment?" Ajtun says. "It's not fair. I've sent a letter to the appeals court and I'm waiting for them to send me a letter back, to see if I win. I am 100 percent sure I'm going to win because I haven't done anything wrong. I am not an alcoholic. Maybe I drink one drink at a party — one margarita — and that's it. But you know, you talk about being a drunk? I am not anything like a drunk." American Apparel declined to comment on reasons behind individual firings, but the eventual ruling on Atjun's case made no mention of the alcoholism claims.
Out of the 34 complaints that have been filed with the NLRB on behalf of American Apparel workers this year, nine cases were still open in mid-October. (The rest had been withdrawn or dismissed, according to an NLRB spokesperson.) None of the fired workers have yet to recoup any of the money they believe the company is withholding.
Fink, Charney's lawyer, has been assisting the workers in filing the NLRB complaints in rapid succession over the past 10 months. He responded to a request for comment from a resort in Myanmar, noting that "sadly the workers in Burma have it better then working for [American Apparel] under current management."
When asked if he was compensated for his time spent filing NLRB complaints, he wrote: "No they don't pay, how could they afford it? I was born and raised in LA and am very loyal to the people of this city and state. These workers work for an iconic company and are good hard working people and I will fight for them on my own dime."
If American Apparel is contracting production to outside companies, it can no longer call itself a vertically integrated manufacturer.
In early September, GBWAA organizers caught wind that the company had allegedly began outsourcing its production to factories abroad. Schneider and Marty Bailey, American Apparel's chief manufacturing officer, tried to squash the rumor as early as possible, sending out a memo the same day that the news was published in the group's newsletter. "Please know that we have NO intentions or plans of moving this company to any foreign country," the memo reads. In addition, Schneider denied outsourcing to the New York Times.
The GBWAA is also claiming that some work has been pushed off to other factories in LA, specifically, E & C Fashions, Inc. and West Coast Distributions for denim production. If American Apparel is contracting production to outside companies, it can no longer call itself a vertically integrated manufacturer — that is, a manufacturer that completes every step of the production process in-house. Vertical integration has long been a point of pride for the company.
Beyond that, there is the issue of conditions at these outside factories. E & C has manufactured jeans for everyone from DKNY to Abercrombie & Fitch, and as Martinez, the Garment Worker Center's organizing coordinator, puts it, "I wouldn't consider any factory in Los Angeles sweatshop-free." American Apparel did not respond when asked to verify these claims.
Still, Schneider and Bailey's memo is the closest the company has come to publicly acknowledging the GBWAA. It continues:
Since Dov was fired for cause, he and his personal supporters have done everything within their power to convince you that we are not capable of bringing our Company back to success. Look at who is telling the media we are failing. Look at who is engaging in demonstrations, telling the public we have problems. Look at who is picketing not only our offices but our retail stores, and asking you to join them in destroying our brand and our Company.
We have scheduled meetings with all of you beginning next week to explain the truth behind this movement by a small group who are looking for their own personal gain and are risking our Company's health.
One last thing: If someone tells you something is free, don't believe it. No one does anything for free. Think about it. Unions who have been around for hundreds of years charge their members millions of dollars. So, how are these individuals going to do it differently? How will they fund their actions? We will explain.
Thank you all who have communicated your support and we know you are in the majority.
The meetings alluded to in the memo were not with Schneider nor Bailey, but rather a union-busting firm American Apparel hired to break down the organizers' support inside the company. While it retained HMD Consulting Group earlier in the year, it is now working with Lupe Cruz & Associates. Cruz, a former union organizer himself, contracts his services out to companies looking to quell worker uprisings.
"Few experiences in business are as counter-productive as a union organizing campaign," his firm's website reads. "Such activity often goes unnoticed by management until it is well advanced. Cruz & Associates excels at rapidly mobilizing and implementing effective campaigns." American Apparel declined to comment on the firm's activity or confirm if it was working with the firm.
According to workers, when the firm's associates arrived at American Apparel, they started corralling small groups for meetings that lasted up to two hours. The workers were not given the option to opt out, since the meetings happened while they were on the clock. They were not allowed to use their cell phones during this time; one employee says he and the other workers in the meeting he attended weren't given the opportunity to speak at all.
The firm's presence has materialized in other ways, too. The workers have been treated to Gatorade and popsicles on their shifts. Last year's holiday bonuses were finally paid, and Schneider sent a memo saying that the company was going to start delivering half of this year's bonuses early. "We hope that it will be useful to you to have additional money with the coming of the holiday season," the memo reads.
The weekly protests have had to start later than usual since workers are now assigned staggered shifts, making it harder to gather everyone for the afternoon protests. But the tactic that gets under Padilha's skin most is American Apparel telling workers that the union will charge dues.
"Because it's like lies on top of lies, every week we have to be like, 'No, this is not true.' We have to be proving, reaffirming what we promised."
"We have a constitution with the Labor Department," she says, in an exasperated tone. "We can't change things like that, like trick people like, 'Oh here you go, you have to pay now.' That's the part that is really annoying. Because it's like lies on top of lies, every week we have to be like, 'No, this is not true.' We have to be proving, reaffirming what we promised."
In some cases, workers who are openly involved with the GBWAA are being harassed on the factory floor. One worker attending the protest, who asked to speak anonymously for fear of retaliation, recounted an episode in which a supervisor led his coworkers in a round of jokes at his expense because of his involvement with the group. "My problem is that I just shut up and I don't talk about what happens," he admits.
At this point, Padilha halts the interview and addresses him directly. "That's why we're unionized," she says. "You're not gonna take anything on your back, you're not gonna be like, ‘Oh, I'm the minority, the immigrant, I can just take any shit that the important people want to put on my back.'" She insists that they go down to the NLRB office to file a complaint over the situation.
"That's the struggle," Padilha says as he walks away. "If you talk to them, there would be 1,000 complaints by this point. A lot of abuse. But as he was saying, like, 'I'm just gonna keep taking it,' you know? That's why we're here and it's good to be with them and know their stories. Otherwise they won't tell them, they are scared."
American Apparel's management has yet to sit down with Padilha or the rest of the GBWAA organizers for any sort of formal meeting or attempt at reconciliation. Instead, most communication occurs indirectly through company-wide email blasts. On October 28th, Schneider sent out an email in English, Spanish, and Chinese that charted the group's claims vs. the official company responses, under columns marked "Rumor/False Statement" and "Fact".
It addressed the notion of Charney returning to the company ("This statement is simply untrue") and the even more far-fetched possibility that American Apparel would move to Mexico ("This is completely untrue"). Loss of hours was explained thusly: "The Company is NOT in the process of laying off employees. What IS true is that manufacturing employees are working, in some cases, a small number of fewer hours than they have previously worked. Specifically, manufacturing employees are working, on average, about 1.85 hours less a week than last year and only 0.8 hours less a week than 2013. Current hours conform to a more efficient business model designed to ensure the ongoing financial health of the Company."
A spokesperson for the company says that the workers "are really coming to understand how important financial restructuring is to the longevity of the company." As evidence, she forwarded a positive note from a former IT employee who recently left the company, expressing gratitude for his time spent with American Apparel. The spokesperson also sent a photo of an anonymous gift left in Schneider's office after the company filed for bankruptcy: a banner crafted out of paper towels that reads "Thank you Paula for saving us" in Spanish.
But Padilha and the other GBWAA organizers believe that, given last month's bankruptcy filing, the state of the company will only continue to deteriorate.
"We'll open another company, same as American Apparel," Sophia Wu, the GBWAA's vice president, says of what will happen if American Apparel shuts down. "That's what Dov would do. He knows how to do it. He knows how to build a company."
Two weeks later, the group will find out that the NLRB passed down rulings on the nine remaining complaints, all related to GBWAA activity, including those filed by Padilha (allegedly fired for her work with the GBWAA), Esmeralda Bermudez (allegedly fired for sending GBWAA-related materials from her company email), and Fabielo Atjun (allegedly fired over the piñata protest). The NLRB dismissed every single complaint, and the group plans to file appeals in every case.
Back in the factory parking lot, one of the protestors' favorite songs to play is a classic Mexican mariachi song called "El Rey." People sing along when the chorus hits.
No tengo trono ni reina
Ni nadie que me comprenda
Perso sigo siendo el Rey
In English, this translates as:
I don't have a throne, nor a queen
Not even one to understand me
Yet, I am still the King
As today's protest winds down, there's no sense of defeat, even though this gathering marks 24 weeks of protesting without any indication that the group's demands will ever be met. A woman plops a cardboard box on the asphalt and breaks it open — it's a fresh batch of community-made T-shirts, and she's selling them for $20 a piece. Printed in block letters above a cutout of Charney's face is a new slogan: "DOV IS THE KING."
Editors: Julia Rubin & Meredith Haggerty