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Market Workers Justice Campaign

by Karl Swinehart Saturday, Jan. 12, 2002 at 7:15 PM

Grocery and garment workers unite in Los Angeles to fight against sweatshop conditions. Market owner harasses workers in union drive. Garment workers and supporters give sweatshop boss indigestion at Take Sushi.

Socialist Worker

Karl Swinehart

LOS ANGELES - On January 4, workers from Assi market and Forever 21 held a joint protest with community supporters in Koreatown, Los Angeles. The garment workers are fighting for thousands of dollars in overtime and backpay from their former employer. The grocery store workers are organizing an independent union at a large Korean ethnic nation wide supermarket chain - Assi Markets. This was the latest action of LAos two most important organizing efforts among low wage, immigrant workers.

The protest started by targeting Take Sushi, a restaurant owned by sweatshop boss Do Won Chang. Take Sushi is where Chang entertains his family, rich friends and clients. Chang owns Forever 21 and owes 19 workers hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay and overtime. The workers sewed Forever 21 clothes in factories in downtown LA without the guarantee of overtime or minimum wage. They worked 10-12 hours a day, in dirty, unsafe factories up to seven days a week. Some of them even had to work at home afterwards. "There came a moment when I wanted to say to my boss that I wasnot earning enough and wanted the minimum wage - he fired me. He said that the fact that I didnot have papers meant that I didnot have rights," one worker, Esperanza, told Socialist Worker. Forever 21 is refusing to take responsibility to pay the workers and ensure that all the factories where their clothes are sewn existing laws and treat the workers with respect and dignity. Yet, while the workers donot even receive minimum wage, Forever 21 will make 0 million in sales this year and have hired one of the largest corporate law firms to fight the workers.

After picketing Take Sushi, protestors set down their signs and crossed the street to Assi Market, where workers have been organizing for an independent union - Immigrant Workers Union (IWU). The group of about forty protestors followed a delegation of workers to the store where they presented a petition by the workers for eight hour shifts. One of owner Daniel Leeos response to the unionizing drive was to cut workers shifts to six hours. For workers receiving the minimum wage, this is a drastic cut to their already inadequate income.

In November, workers at Assi filed for a union election for the IWU. Lee hired union busters "Littler and Mendelson" and filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) against the IWU to delay the election and harass the workers. The ULP was dismissed January 3rd.

There are Assi markets in California and on the east coast. Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates (KIWA) estimates that ASSI grosses at least 750 thousand dollars a week - almost twice that of a typical grocery store like Vonos or Ralphos. In contrast, the workers at Assi are not unionized, receive the minimum wage, have little job security and no benefits. "Managers keep very close supervision and workers can be fired for any reason," Liz Sunwoo, an organizer for KIWA, told Socialist worker. "When workers requested to take 10 minute breaks, overtime or days off have been fired. Managerial orders are almost always followed by put downs and insult for both Latino and Korean workers. One of the first demands of the workers was respect on the job. . . . Itos outrageous, but, Latino workers now know how to say "son of a bitch" in Korean."

Community groups are organizing delegations to go shopping at the market with sandwich board signs stating their support for the workers in Korean, Spanish and English. During the Christmas Holiday, supporters entered the store dressed as Santas Elves and gave workers candy canes with messages in Korean and Spanish and gave owner Daniel Lee a large "Christmas Card" with workerso demands. The garment workers in the Forever 21 campaign have also been very creative with their protests. In addition to weekly protests at local stores, workers have picketed the owners home at eight in the morning and supporters sang nradical Christmas Carolso outside Forever 21 in a shopping mall during the Holiday.

These workers are an inspiration for the entire labor movement and need everyoneos support. Organize an action in your area:

If you live in California or the East Coast, organize a delegation to an Assi Market near you! Call Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates 213 738 9050. Send Donations to Market Workers Justice Campaign c/o KIWA, 3465 8th St., Los Angeles, CA 90005

Does Forever 21 have a store in your area? Get info. and supplies for a picket from Sweatshop Watch call: 213-748-5945, or online www.sweatshopwatch.org

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