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Labor Department retrieves back wages for garment workers

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — About 250 unpaid workers from a bankrupt clothing manufacturer have reason to celebrate the start of the New Year.

With the help of the U.S. Department of Labor, the Wins of California workers finally will be paid $337,000 of the more than $900,000 owed them in back wages, a Labor Department spokesman said Tuesday.

For more than 18 months, the Labor Department has been appealing to the U.S. District Court in San Francisco to release $422,000 held in a “lock box” account to pay the workers.

The settlement awarded 80 percent of that amount, or $337,000, to the workers. The remaining money from the lock box went to pay the bankruptcy fees and Wins creditor G.E. Capital Commercial Services Inc., said Labor Department spokesman Tino Serrano.

In July 2001, Wins was prohibited from shipping goods because of labor violations, including the failure to pay its workers promptly. By August, however, Wins was permitted to resume shipping goods, although all proceeds were paid into the special “lock box” fund to be distributed to the unpaid workers.

Efforts to pay the workers with the funds were thwarted when Wins filed for bankruptcy, prompting creditors to lay claim to the lock box money. The release of those funds has been delayed by bankruptcy court proceedings.

“We argued to the court that those funds were not Wins assets,” Serrano said. “Those funds are the workers’ back wages.”

The settlement was signed Tuesday by the Labor Department and Wins creditors. The department will still try to collect almost $1 million in back wages and penalties from Wins owners Anna Wong and her husband, “Toha” Jimmy Quan, Serrano said.

According to the Oakland office of Sweatshop Watch, an industry watchdog group, about 250 garment workers — mostly Chinese immigrant women — worked for months without pay at Wins of California, Win Fashion and Win Industries of America. All three San Francisco factories were owned by Wong and Quan.

The three Wins facilities owe their employees close to $1 million in wages, according to the watchdog group that fights to protect the rights of immigrant garment workers.

Wins made clothing for customers such as the U.S. Army and Air Force, Sears, Wal-Mart and Kmart.