American Apparel offshoot company ordered to keep L.A. factory closed after 4 workers die of COVID-19; at least 300 more infected

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Los Angeles Apparel was ordered to shut down its garment factory following an investigation into a coronavirus outbreak that has sickened more than 300 workers, killing four of them, officials announced Friday.

The manufacturer of casual basics — started by American Apparel founder Dov Charney shortly before that firm declared bankruptcy in 2016 — was originally ordered to cease operations June 27 after inspectors found “flagrant violations” of COVID-19 guidelines. But it soon reopened after replacing its sickened staff with new workers, the county Department of Public Health said in a news release.

The factory is located at 1020 E. 59th St. in South L.A.’s Florence neighborhood, according to Los Angeles Apparel’s website.

Inspectors say they visited the site after learning of an outbreak there that hadn’t been reported to the department, as is required for any business with at least three known cases. Los Angeles Apparel has subsequently failed to cooperate in the investigation, officials said.

“The death of four dedicated garment workers is heartbreaking and tragic,” Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director, said in a statement. “Business owners and operators have a corporate, moral and social responsibility to their employees and their families to provide a safe work environment that adheres to all of the health officer directives.”

Three of the company’s workers died in early June, and one died this month.

On Saturday, workers lined up outside the factory to get tested for COVID-19.

One employee said the deaths are sad and scary, but that they planned to go back to work “because that’s the way we pay our bills, rent.”

Health officials say they began investigating the factory on June 19, after a concerned health care provider advised them of a possible outbreak there.

Inspectors say the company then failed to heed multiple requests for a list of its employees to validate testing results. That week, Los Angeles Apparel reported 151 cases, officials said.

When they paid a visit to the plant on June 26, inspectors say they found multiple violations of distancing requirements and infection control protocols, including the use of cardboard to separate workers rather than plexiglass. The location was ordered to shut down the following day.

The Department of Public Health said it gave the company a detailed list of steps to be taken so it could reopen. But the firm instead chose to reopen with new employees, which inspectors say they learned “despite Los Angeles Apparel’s attempts to prevent DPH employees from entering the factory.”

The factory has been ordered to remain closed until it can prove full compliance with public health mandates.

In March, Los Angeles Apparel joined a national coalition of textile brands that said it would work with the federal government to produce face masks.

The county says it is monitoring other manufacturing worksites to ensure compliance with public health orders.

Marissa Nuncio, director of the Garment Worker Center, encouraged employees to report unsafe conditions to the Department of Public Health hotline at 888-700-9995. Reports can be made anonymously.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear of worker deaths at Los Angeles Apparel,” she said. “We hope this raises awareness of the urgent need to protect workers, and that workers know they have rights.”

Editor’s note: A news release from the Department of Public Health on Friday said the factory was located in downtown Los Angeles, but the address listed on the county and company websites is in South L.A.’s Florence neighborhood. This post has been updated to reflect the correct location.

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