Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Put Your Money Where Your Principles Are: Boycott Tommy Hilfiger

Just Say No

Tommy Hilfiger, the clothing designer, has earned his place on the boycott list, along with Circuit City. Tommy Hilfiger fired the union cleaning company that paid their workers $19 an hour plus benefits, and replaced them with a company that paid workers $8 an hour (probably no benefits, too). And the decimation of the middle class continues, and the obscenely rich get obscenely richer.


NYTimes: Unkind Cut for Janitors at Hilfiger
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By JIM DWYER
Published: May 16, 2007

On Thursday, Gloria Coreas took the subway from Jackson Heights, Queens, to 23rd Street, then a crosstown bus to the western edge of Manhattan, and spent her usual eight hours cleaning the office at the Tommy Hilfiger company.

At the end of the day, she was called to the fifth floor, along with the eight other men and women who make the daily mess disappear.

“A supervisor said, ‘I’m going to give you bad news,’ ” Ms. Coreas said. “The job was ending.”

Nine people, who came by subway and bus to scrub Tommy Hilfiger’s toilets, mop his floors, dust his shelves, were out of work. They made about $19 an hour, union wages. The Hilfiger operation found a new company to provide these services for about $8 an hour, said Chuck Santiago, one of the people who lost his job and tried to get hired by the new cleaning contractor.

Yesterday, black Town Cars lined up in the fine spring sunshine outside the Hilfiger office on West 26th Street to collect young designers and executives while their former cleaning women and men handed out fliers and accepted condolences from people on smoke breaks.

Gustavo Aguinaga said: “Thursday night, they tell us the job is over on Friday. They tell us they’re coming the next day to pick up the tools.”

“No notice,” Ms. Coreas said. “We were in shock.”

The Hilfiger company sells clothes around the world stamped with variations on Tommy Hilfiger’s name; last year, the company was bought for what was reported to be $1.6 billion by a private equity company called Apax Partners. (What is $1.6 billion? Here’s a scale: One million seconds is about 11 days. One billion seconds is about 32 years.)

Besides cashing in his own stake of $66 million, Mr. Hilfiger will be paid a minimum of $14.5 million a year through 2010, then receive a share of the sales.

For workers in their 40s and 50s, a job that pays $8 an hour was a nightmare. “Rent in Jackson Heights is unbelievable now,” Ms. Coreas said. “It’s more than a thousand dollars.”

“We’re not asking for raises,” Mr. Santiago said. “We’re not asking for anything, except to let us work.”

As they spoke, Andy Hilfiger, the brother of Tommy, stepped outside. “I think they came with the building,” he said of the laid-off cleaning people. No, he was told, the cleaners had moved with Hilfiger to 26th Street from offices a few blocks away. “Oh, they did?” he said. “I’ll try to find out something.” He got on a cellphone, then drifted away.

Yesterday, Marybeth Schmitt, speaking for the people who own the Hilfiger name, called.

“I have a statement,” she said.

Hold on.

Had her space been cleaned satisfactorily, the bathroom tidy, and so on?

“I would have to get back to you on that,” she said.

Couldn’t she say whether her trash can had been properly emptied? Without conferring with other executives?

“I don’t think this is personal,” she said. “This is a corporate matter.”

Sigh.

Before getting to the statement, it’s worth noting that on its Web site, Hilfiger says that garment manufacturers who work under contract for the company must treat their workers fairly.

Hilfiger used a contractor, Shepard Industries, to clean its space in Manhattan, and Ms. Schmitt’s initial statement seemed to blame Shepard for the loss of jobs, saying the contractor had “ended its relationship with Tommy Hilfiger USA Inc.”

That leaves out an important detail. “We have not been paid by Tommy Hilfiger for the last six months,” said Joan Taylor, the director of operations for Shepard. “We have paid our employees.”

So Tommy Hilfiger, a name owned by the global private equities firm Apax with $20 billion in assets under management, did not pay the company that paid the people who cleaned its bathrooms?

Asked about this, Ms. Schmitt said yes, it was true that Hilfiger had stopped paying the cleaning contractor in December, but only because it reduced its office space by half in November and disputed the contractor’s bills. Hilfiger “is currently seeking a union employer to take up this contract,” she said.

The first contractor contacted by Hilfiger, IBS Services Group, did not respond to inquiries.

On Friday morning, Gustavo Aguinaga and Gloria Coreas and the others came to work. At day’s end, their tools were hauled away: buffing machines, vacuums, brooms, dusters, rags, Windex, Fantastik, degreaser, carpet shampoo.

“We packed it all up,” Mr. Aguinaga said.

Why?

“They asked us,” he said.

E-mail: dwyer@nytimes.com

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1 comment:

cul said...

We are of the same opinion on this matter I see.

Good blog.