American Apparel’s Sleazy Former CEO Is Leading a Worker Revolt Against the Company

An American Apparel store
The Dov Charney legacy.

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Last summer, American Apparel at last rid itself of Dov Charney, its notoriously sleazy founder and former chief executive. But instead of fixing the company’s problems, that decision seems to be compounding them.

Since being forced from his post, Charney has reportedly begun stirring an “internal revolt” among American Apparel’s workers. Last weekend, he rallied 300 of the company’s current and former textile employees at a secret meeting in Los Angeles and appealed to them to reinstate him as CEO. Charney told the workers that American Apparel’s board had turned against him and had no understanding of how to run the business. Then, he called for the workers to organize.

Several days later, what started as a surreptitious gathering has escalated after American Apparel employees filed two complaints with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the company intimidated workers and banned interactions with the press. The complaints look pretty terrible for an organization that built its image on being “sweatshop-free” and takes pride in paying workers above the minimum wage.

The first complaint alleges that on Feb. 16 American Apparel dispatched security to a meeting of employees who were discussing concerns about their hours. After the meeting ended, the complaint alleges, one of the employees was “accosted and interrogated by an American Apparel security employee” who “demanded information on her involvement at the meeting and forced her to turn over to him the information flyers that she had received” and seized and photographed her employee ID badge. The second claims that on Jan. 25 American Apparel implemented a media policy that violates the National Labor Relations Act by banning employees from speaking to the press.

American Apparel says it will investigate the allegations and that it is “dedicated to a culture of free speech and social commentary.” Paula Schneider, the woman who replaced Charney as CEO, also emphasized in a recent interview with Refinery29 that the strategy she’s developing for American Apparel is a “bottom-up process.” That said, the week before Charney held the secret L.A. meeting, Schneider sent an email in Spanish to workers pleading for their patience and cooperation. “Please, know that there are external forces trying to cause trouble and affect our business,” she wrote. “I ask you please, do not misinterpret actions.”

Based on this week’s events, though, those employee loyalties to Charney are going to die hard. And it will take more than an email from Schneider to change that.