Labor secretary reneged promise, garment workers say

The Associated Press
Wednesday September 18, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao reneged on a year-old pledge to help 200 garment workers collect more than $1 million in unpaid wages, the factory employees charged Tuesday. 

Speaking at a rally near the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco’s posh Nob Hill district, about 100 workers said Chao had ignored their cause after using it for her own publicity. Chao was scheduled to give a speech to the Commonwealth Club of California at the hotel, where the unpaid laborers staged a protest against Chao. A statement faxed from the Department of Labor in Washington said the speech had been canceled due to a scheduling conflict. 

A local politician, however, accused Chao of dodging the long-standing issue. 

“It’s pretty clear she’s trying to avoid this,” said Chris Daly, a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.  

“It’s ridiculous to suggest (Chao) changed her schedule just to avoid the Wins workers,” said Sue Hensley, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of Labor. 

The Wins grievance stems back to August 2001, when the plight of the workers first made headlines in San Francisco. At that time, Chao vowed to take up the case in the name of justice. 

According to the Oakland office of Sweatshop Watch, more than 200 garment workers — mostly Chinese immigrant women — worked for months without pay at Wins of California, Win Fashion and Win Industries of America. All three factories are owned by Anna Wong and her husband Toha “Jimmy” Quan.