300 protest sale of 'sweatshop' suits Union claims Hecht's is selling suits made by exploited workers

August 09, 1996|By Bill Atkinson | Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

About 300 members of the UNITE labor union marched through Security Square Mall yesterday demanding that Hecht's stop buying men's suits from a Canadian clothing manufacturer that the union says is running a sweatshop.

The union members paraded past Hecht's yelling "Shame on Hecht's" and "No justice, no peace" because the store buys suits made by Peerless Clothing Inc., a Montreal-based company that is North America's largest manufacturer of men's suits. Peerless sells suits at Hecht's under the Brandini and Chaps by Ralph Lauren labels.

UNITE is the acronym for the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, which has about 300,000 members. The union also held protests yesterday in about 20 cities at stores owned by May Department Stores Co., which owns Hecht's; Federated Department Stores Inc., and Dayton Hudson Corp.

"Our goal for this action is to let the retailers know that we are going to hold them responsible for the conduct of their suppliers," said Michael Zucker, director of corporate affairs with UNITE, which is based in New York.

UNITE claims that Peerless employees, who are mostly immigrants, are paid substandard wages, and that some have been sexually harassed and discriminated against because of their race. It also contends that 20 employees were fired for trying to organize a union.

Nancy Chistolini, a Hecht's spokeswoman, said the store will continue to carry the suits made by Peerless.

"This is strictly a labor dispute involving other parties and Hecht's is a neutral party and will not take sides," Chistolini said.

Joel Segal, president of Peerless, said UNITE's allegations are false. "We vehemently deny them," he said.

He said UNITE is leaning on the company simply because it has been unable to organize Peerless' 2,000 workers. He said the company already has a union.

Pub Date: 8/09/96

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