American Apparel takes stand on immigration

Mon Oct 27, 2008 9:24pm EDT
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By Alexandria Sage

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Atop its pink factory in downtown Los Angeles, a sprawling banner declares American Apparel a "Compania Rebelde" (rebel company) and all over town, benches and billboards sponsored by the company shout "Legalize LA."

While immigration is almost a non-issue in the U.S. presidential campaign, American Apparel, the biggest garment manufacturer in the country, is doing its best to keep the debate alive, saying legalizing foreign workers is good for business.

Amid the whirr of sewing machines and clatter of cloth-laden carts, workers sport T-shirts that display their job functions in both Spanish and English, and telephone calls to family in Mexico are free.

Its campaign to legalize immigrants fits with a progressive image -- the 230,000 garments it churns out a day are all made by some 4,500 workers at its Los Angeles factory, and the company advertises its products as "sweatshop free."

"This is a company with equal opportunities for everyone and that fights for people's rights," said Eric Martinez, a stock room worker.

The debate over how a country built on immigration should manage its new immigrant workforce exploded into mass demonstrations in several major cities in 2006.

After policy overhaul efforts failed in Congress the following year, both presidential candidates have said they support humane reform, but have kept quiet on the subject in the months leading to the election on November 4.

Democrat Barack Obama wants a halt to raids that separate families and supports citizenship for immigrants who pay a fine, learn English, and wait their turn in line.   Continued...

<p>A man uses one of the phones at the American Apparel factory in downtown Los Angeles, October 17, 2008. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson</p>