The Los Angeles County Department of Health shut down Los Angeles Apparel’s South L.A. garment factory earlier this month after more than 300 employees tested positive for the coronavirus and four died. Now, founder Dov Charney is insisting that the numbers don’t necessarily constitute an outbreak at his factory.
Charney told reporter Charles Davis the infection rate among his staff is a mere 15 percent, a figure he claims is on par with the rate South Los Angeles as a whole.
“The local hospital here, of the 7,000 cases they tested for, between the period of April 15th and June 30th, they had 1,050 cases, which is 15 percent,” Charney claims.
However, as of July 14, when Charney offered those figures, the average countywide, seven-day infection rate was actually under ten percent. And, if Charney really wants to get technical, 375 of his 2,290 employees tested positive—or 16.3 percent.
“Any suggestion that this is an acceptable level of infection rate in a workplace is plain wrong,” a health department spokesperson tells Business Insider. “Business owners and operators have a corporate, moral, and social responsibility to their employees and their employee’s families to provide a safe working environment.”
Meanwhile, the local hospital Charney identified, Kedren Community Health Center, said it doesn’t even have any data showing that the rate in South L.A. is any higher than in the rest of the county. “We don’t have that information,” says chief administrative officer Kristina Ledesma-Davies.
Daisy Gonzalez, an organizer with labor advocacy group the Garment Worker Center, says that as Charney began to bring in more and more workers to increase production of personal protection equipment as the pandemic worsened, so did the number of employees frightened by a “lack of protections and mismanagement.”
According to Gonzalez, one worker told them that “the factory quickly went from about 400 workers to over 1,000 without the protocols in place to properly deal with prevention.”
Former employees as well as the health department all contend that the factory was overcrowded and that basic safety measures like social distancing were not observed. One ex-Los Angeles Apparel worker said of Charney, “That was his attitude through this whole thing… ‘Oh, it’ll be fine. We’ll just wash our hands. I think you’re worrying about it too much,'” adding, “I’ve never been so disgusted by a business person.”
In the interview, Charney characterized complaints about working conditions and accusations that the plant was not disinfected as “garbage.” If public health was such a big deal, he reasons, city officials should have done more to shut down recent Black Lives Matter protests.
“Why didn’t the mayor’s office and the police and everybody say, ‘We’re not going to allow demonstrations?'” Charney asked.
As Charney sees it, this is not about safety and corporate responsibility. It’s simply that powerful forces within the Los Angeles County Department of Health are out to get him.
“I’m not alleging conspiracy,” he said. “I’m alleging that certain people at the department are misleading the public because they’re looking for a political win.”
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