NYC Chinatown garment workers win $1.2 million in damages for labor law violations

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Today, a Manhattan federal judge awarded 13 Chinatown garment workers over $1.2 million in damages for unpaid minimum wage and overtime pay owed between 2005 to 2010. The plaintiffs were represented by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). 


The 13 Chinese immigrant garment workers were employed at the Walker Street Factory in Lower Manhattan six or seven days a week, regularly toiling over 10 to 12 hours a day or even longer when the factory was rushing to complete some garments. The factory produced garments primarily for two retailers, Dress Barn and Lane Bryant. (Neither of these companies were parties to the lawsuit.) The workers were paid by the piece and often did not earn the minimum wage or receive overtime pay.


Beyond the labor law violations, the factory owed these workers over $110,000 in unpaid wages when it closed in October 2010. The two individuals named as defendants, Jun Reng Zhou, the factory boss, and Jin Xian Mei, the factory manager, both of Brooklyn, tried to blame others for failing to pay the workers, but the federal judge found their testimony "inconsistent and incredible." 


The defendants testified that they were not the boss and manager of the factory, that the real bosses came to the factory at night when no one was there and calculated the wages, and then left the checks and cash for the workers. These same phantom bosses purportedly called Zhou and Mei to tell them to meet a person in a car near the factory to be given instructions or cash for the payroll. Of course, none of the garment workers had ever seen these imaginary bosses.


The decision describes how one woman garment worker was given a check for $150, even though she was owed $200. She pleaded with the manager to obtain the remaining $50 to buy food for her grandson, who was recovering from surgery, but the manager refused.


Ken Kimerling, AALDEF legal director and the attorney representing the garment workers, said: "Not all of the garments made for American manufacturers are made overseas. Garment sweatshops still exist in Manhattan, and workers are still not being paid overtime and minimum wages. This excellent decision shows that while some manufacturers may be spending more to monitor their work overseas, they still need to protect American workers as well."


The decision in Ho v. Sim Enterprises, Inc. can be downloaded here


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For more information, contact:

Kenneth Kimerling, Legal Director

212.966.5932 x203

kkimerling@aaldef.org