Breaking a sweat - Page 2

What's taking San Francisco so long to implement its anti-sweat shop law?

The group's chair, Valerie Orth, an organizer for Global Exchange, said city bureaucrats promised to grant only short-term contracts until the law's complex requirements were logistically workable.

Companies doing business with the city are often merely part of a supply chain that is coordinated with manufacturers abroad, so inspectors must track the conduct of subcontractors too.

The city, however, still doesn't know the locations of some of the manufacturing plants where uniforms for sheriff's deputies, meter enforcers, and many others are produced, Orth said, and with so many suppliers potentially receiving waivers, there's no way to tell if, for instance, workers are getting a minimum wage.

Some businesses did provide info to the city on what outfits they subcontract with, but in one case the subcontractor, Fechheimer Brothers Co., didn't comply with the law's wage requirements, city records show.

According to Fechheimer's Web site, the company has "manufacturing partners" in Central and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia that "complement our three union plants in the United States." Fechheimer is participating in a three-year contract to provide uniforms to the city's fire department.

"We've been trying to implement this law since 2005," Orth told the Guardian. "They've had time to try and figure out the kinks."

Orth said an executive from Fechheimer attended a recent advisory group meeting and complained that disclosing the location of manufacturing plants abroad would make the firm less competitive.

Newsom's government affairs director, Wade Crowfoot, was unhappy when he discovered last week that Hayden and Orth had distributed a news release outlining their complaints. When we contacted the mayor's media flak, Nathan Ballard, with questions, he responded only with an exasperated letter that Crowfoot had sent to the duo.

"Far from the doom-and-gloom portrait painted by the press release, the city remains committed to advancing the most aggressive anti-sweatshop law in the country," Crowfoot wrote. "While it may be frustrating to implement this incrementally, our experience with other groundbreaking legislation such as requiring domestic partner benefits suggests that remaining focused on removing the barriers to implementation — and working together to do so — is the only way to make this law fully operative."

Crowfoot added that the city wants to modify the law to reward contract bidders who are mostly compliant, but Orth and Hayden still worry that the city is simply prioritizing suppliers who are the least costly. According to Orth, "Once [contractors] figure out how they can get out of complying with the law in a city like San Francisco ... they can easily get out of complying with laws in other cities."

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