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Mike's sweatshop shirts Human rights group rags his El Salvador-made togs

Daily News |  By JOEL SIEGEL | August, 04 2001 |  Share  | Source Article

Michael Bloomberg has a Kathie Lee Gifford problem.

Nonunion workers toiling for 60 cents an hour in Salvadoran sweatshops made the "Mike for Mayor" T-shirts that are being distributed by the billionaire's self-funded mayoral campaign.

The National Labor Committee, an advocacy group for worker and human rights in Central America, researched the origin of the T-shirts at the request of the Daily News and concluded they were sweatshop-produced.

"When you are talking about El Salvador, you are talking about a place where there is no rule of law when it comes to the apparel factories," said Charles Kernaghan, the group's director.

The shirts were made by Delta, a Georgia-based apparel supplier, and "assembled in El Salvador of U.S. components," according to the label inside the collar. A U.S. silk-screener added the "Mike for Mayor" lettering across the chest.

The Bloomberg campaign ordered the shirts from a Manhattan supplier of political materials, N.G. Slater, and was unaware of sweatshop involvement, said campaign adviser Bill Cunningham.

"If that is accurate - and it is news to us - I can assure you we will not be ordering any shirts from them again," he said.

Customs Service records show that Delta imports shirts from two factories in El Salvador: Industrias Amitex and J & A Textiles.

The labor committee has found horrendous conditions - by U.S. standards - at the Amitex plant, including mandatory pregnancy tests for women seeking jobs, mandatory 11-hour shifts and an average workweek of 65 hours.

Pay averages 60 cents an hour, the legal minimum wage, which places, by the Salvadoran government's own definition, a worker in "extreme poverty."

The advocacy group has conducted no such investigation of J & A Textiles but said conditions in Salvadoran garment factories are virtually the same.

"I'm comfortable saying that if it's in El Salvador, it's a sweatshop," Kernaghan said.

Informed by The News of the committee's findings, officials at Delta did not respond to a request for comment.

Cunningham noted that a variety of politicians, from former presidential candidate Ralph Nader to Sen. Hillary Clinton, have ordered goods from N.G. Slater. "So you have a great story - all of these politicians are using a firm that patronizes sweatshops," he said.

But Alan Slater, the company's vice president, said the buttons and other materials he produces in-house are made by unionized workers. T-shirts, however, are ordered from a supplier.

He said neither Nader nor Clinton had purchased T-shirts through him, and that few politicians do.

When the Bloomberg campaign ordered the 500 shirts, Slater said, he never thought to ask his supplier to provide union-made apparel. Bloomberg's representative did not specify such a requirement, he added.

"Now I know why the Delta shirt is so cheap," Slater said.

If Bloomberg wants advice on handling the problem, he could turn to Gifford.

After it was revealed that her line of clothing was being made in sweatshops, the TV star joined a national organization that created a manufacturing code of conduct. A clothing maker or retailer subscribes to the code and makes its factories agree to abide by it.