US military uniforms made in sweatshops
Updated: 2006-03-15 09:53
WASHINGTON - American military uniforms are being made under substandard
working conditions in domestic sweatshops that the Pentagon is failing to
police, an apparel workers union said on Tuesday.
Most workers who make
the uniforms worn by American soldiers are paid below poverty-level wages, have
no health coverage or retirement plans and are forced to rely on government aid,
the union, Unite Here, said in a report.
"It's unconscionable that
taxpayer dollars are being used to support sweatshops," Unite Here Executive
Vice President Edgar Romney told a news conference. "But that's exactly what's
The report, "Conduct Unbecoming: Sweatshops and the U.S.
Military Uniform Industry," found the average hourly wage at eight uniform
manufacturers with government contracts to be $6.55 and the average starting
wage to be $5.49. The federal minimum wage is $5.15, while the poverty threshold
wage for a family of three is $7.74.
With low pay and employer health
care either unavailable or beyond the reach of most of the workers, who are
predominantly female African-American sewing machine operators, they must rely
on government health care and food assistance, the report said. The government
assistance costs taxpayers $45 million a year, it said.
manufacturers, located mostly in southeastern states, did a combined $456
million of business with the Pentagon in the last three years and have been
cited for numerous health, safety and labor law violations, it said.
Defense Department spends more than $2 billion a year on uniforms and textile
products that it buys from hundreds of small firms that by law must be located
in the United States and that employ 20,000 workers, the report said.
"We think that it's important that we urge our government to take the
high road in awarding these contracts," said Romney.
President Bruce Raynor said the union, which represents workers in the apparel,
hotel, restaurant and laundry industries, decided to go public with its findings
only after Pentagon officials refused to discuss the matter.
at the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency did not return phone calls.
UNIONIZED MANUFACTURERS DISADVANTAGED
who said the union is trying to organize workers at at least one of the
manufacturers, said Pentagon procurement policies put unionized manufacturers at
He said he would urge lawmakers to call on the Pentagon
to deny contracts to companies that have violated laws, fail to provide benefits
and pay below poverty-level wages.
"When you take shortcuts with the
workers, you take shortcuts with the quality," he