Sewing 900 sleeves per hour

All week, Haitian worker Telemarque Pierre is traveling the state with the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition to ask New Yorkers to get the state government to agree to purchase only sweatfree goods for all of its apparel. His authority on the subject is hard won: he works in a factory where in order to earn the minimum wage he must sew 900 sleeves on shirts in an hour.

Think about that.

Telemarque is the general coordinator of the Union of Apparel and Textile Workers of Haiti, which is a member of the Gildan Union Network.  They fight for better working conditions. He’s speaking this week at colleges and community centers,  telling New Yorkers how, on On October 1, 2012, a minimum wage increase came into effect.  The minimum wage was increased from 250 gourds ($4.65 in U.S. dollars) to 300 gourds ($7.12 ) for a work day of 8 hours.   However, in Telemarque’s factory, wages are paid according to the amount of garments produced by each worker, rather than being paid a fixed daily wage rate.  The factory will only pay the daily wage if a worker successfully meets their assigned production quota –which in Telemarque’s case means sewing on both sleeves for 3,600 shirts during an 8 hour period.  Telemarque says this is impossible because he would have to sew 900 sleeves every hour.  Since the quota is unachievable, he said workers stay at the factory for extra hours on a regular basis, without receiving the legal overtime compensation.

Many workers sew apparel in Honduran and Haitian factories owned and contracted by Gildan Activewear, a Montreal-based company that supplies government entities as well as companies like Adidas and Walmart.

New York could make a difference because it spends $43 million a year on apparel, textiles, footwear, flags and uniforms, according to Joy Perkett, faith organizer and campaign coordinator for the coalition. She’s been on the road all week shepherding the Sweatfree New York week of action.

Today, groups are meeting at St. John Fisher College in Rochester. With the coming snowstorm, it is wise to check on the tomorrow’s events scheduled in the Albany area:

  • 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. – Worker at Siena, Key Auditorium (Roger Bacon 202) [Siena Flyer]
  • 3-4:30 p.m. – Worker at SUNY Albany, Humanities 354 [University at Albany Flyer]
  • 6-8:30 p.m. – Community speaker event, Pastoral Center [Flyer]
    • Potluck at6; Speaker at 7
    • Event sponsored by Peace and Justice Commission of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Albany

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