For immediate release
May 31, 2007
Members Tell Apparel Retailer to Respect Workers' Rights "Across the Border"
NEW YORK, May 31 — Garment and service workers across North America will join workers from a Canadian warehouse in leafleting American Eagle Outfitters stores in 18 cities this week. From Pittsburgh to Vancouver, over three days, thousands of U.S. and Canadian shoppers will learn of unfair treatment of workers at the third-party warehouse, National Logistics Services (NLS), that distributes merchandise to American Eagle stores throughout Canada. Warrendale, Pennsylvania-based American Eagle Outfitters, the largest customer of NLS, manufactures casual clothing for young men and women and operates nearly 1,000 stores in North America.
In late April, a majority of workers at National Logistics Services (NLS), in Mississauga, outside of Toronto, applied to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to have UNITE HERE certified as their union in order to improve their working conditions, including stagnating wages and a lack of job security. Employing a tactic outside the norm of labor relations in Ontario, NLS hired a U.S.-based labor relations firm that orchestrated an anti-union campaign of harassment and intimidation against the 180 workers. After this campaign of misinformation, workers lost the vote for a union despite expressing a desire to form a union just one week before.
"We work hard and want to be treated fairly," said an NLS worker who spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation. "We feel insecure about our jobs because of the company’s intimidation. We need a union because we have no voice."
While American Eagle now outsources its distribution operations to NLS, the clothing company directly owned and operated the distribution center until early 2006. Since the takeover by NLS, workers have reported that conditions have deteriorated.
Yet American Eagle has thus far denied any responsibility, in direct contradiction to its stated responsibilities outlined in its Code of Conduct for Contractors, part of the retailer’s efforts to promote "corporate social responsibility." The code requires that "contractors must respect the rights of employees to associate freely, join organizations of their choice and bargain collectively without interference."
"If American Eagle is serious about their Code of Conduct, then they will demand compliance from NLS for Canadian workers, just as they will for garment workers in China sewing jeans or shorts," said UNITE HERE’s Canadian Co-Director, Alex Dagg. "Furthermore, American Eagle should not think it can flout its own rules by going across the border to Canada or across the ocean to Asia."
UNITE HERE members and activists are calling on American Eagle to apply its Code of Conduct to the workers at NLS, distribution workers as critical to its supply chain as those who sew or sell its clothing. Leaflets will be distributed in front of American Eagle stores in New York, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Boston, and Denver, as well as in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.
The actions mark the escalation of UNITE HERE’s efforts to hold American Eagle accountable to its own standards. Since learning of the NLS worker intimidation campaign, more than 3,000 UNITE HERE members and supporters throughout North America (including many student activists) have contacted American Eagle and NLS to voice their outrage with the tactics used at the warehouse.
UNITE HERE represents more than 450,000 active union members and more than 400,000 retirees in the U.S. and Canada including those who sew, ship and sell clothing. With more than a century of history in the apparel industry, the union has fought to improve working conditions in North America and in sweatshops overseas. Today, over 30,000 members work at more than 200 distribution centers, including Liz Claiborne, Levi’s and TJX stores.
UNITE HERE North American Days of Action at American Eagle Outfitters
- San Francisco, Wednesday 5/30
- Boston, Wednesday 5/30 and Thursday 5/31
- Washington, Thursday 5/31
- Baltimore, Thursday 5/31
- Montreal, Thursday 5/31
- Toronto, Thursday 5/31
- Edmonton, Thursday 5/31
- Hamilton, Thursday 5/31
- New York City, Thursday 5/31 and Friday 6/1
- Pittsburgh, Friday 6/1
- Los Angeles, Friday 6/1
- Chicago, Friday 6/1
- St. Catherines, Friday 6/1
- Calgary, Friday 6/1
- Vancouver, Friday 6/1
- Denver, Friday 6/1 and Saturday 6/2
- Atlanta, Saturday 6/2
- Dallas, Saturday 6/2