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Major clothing workers union will fight proposed rules that allow factory work at home

A major clothing workers union is vowing to fight a Labor Department proposal to allow employees in six industries -- including women's apparel -- to work in their homes. Such a rules change, announced Wednesday, would lift a 40-year ban on work at home for employees in industries making women's apparel, jewelry, gloves and mittens, buttons and buckles, and handkerchiefs and embroideries.

These workers would join employees in the knitted outerwear industry, who since 1984 legally have been able to work in their homes if their companies get a certificate from the government and pay them at least minimum wage and overtime pay.

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But the certification system has been an ``utter failure'' because of inadequate enforcement, the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) said Wednesday in announcing it would oppose the Labor Department plan to extend the system to the six other industries.

``Industrial homework and the sweatshop go hand in hand,'' ILGWU President Jay Mazur said. ``When factory work is done in the home, there is no way to enforce the minimum wage, child labor, health and safety, or any of the laws created to protect American workers.''

Mr. Mazur said the new rules would be a ``green light to the thousands of sweatshop operators throughout this country who exploit our most vulnerable workers, many of them immigrants with little understanding of English or of their rights under American law.''

The other victims, he said, would be factory workers who would lose their jobs to the home workers.

Home work in all seven industries was banned in the 1940s, mainly to guard against exploitation in the sweatshops of the clothing industry. In 1984, the Labor Department tried to ease restrictions on home work, creating the certification system in the knitted outerwear industry. The proposed rules were to be published in the Federal Register yesterday.

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