London - Arguably becoming the industry's most well-followed (and documented) soap opera, the relationship between American Apparel's CEO Paula Schneider and its workers has come to a head - her head on a piñata, which was smashed apart during a demonstration in front of the company's LA head office last week. As American Apparel struggles to turnaround both its image and profit margins, amidst rumours they are seeking bankruptcy counsel,, workers continue their protest against Schneider and American Apparel's management team by attacking piñata built in Schnieder's likeness.
A video of the protest has been posted on Youtube by the Workers Together Save American Apparel group, with the following comment: "In Mexico, piñatas have a long history of being used for political commentary of unpopular public figures. Unionized garment workers and shareholders take part in a demonstration of political theatre. The piñata was filled with chocolate gold coins and play money to symbolize that Paula continues to enrich herself and her friends with monetary rewards at the expense of shareholders, employees, and anyone with a real stake in the company."
Protestors, who wore "I heart Dov" and "Save Our Company" t-shirts, claim they are still owed their Christmas bonuses from 2014, something they believe their former CEO and founder Dov Charney wouldn’t have let happen. The demonstration was designed to draw attention recent firing of workers who has been trying to unionize, according to the LA Business Journal, which include the termination Stephanie Padilhado, the president of American Apparel's worker union, the General Brotherhood of Workers of American Apparel. Following the protest, three union leaders involved were also fired.
Factory workers first began protesting earlier this year when they experienced a 50 percent drop in wages due to work hour cutbacks, cutbacks to their work benefits and witnessed their own work being outsourced to cheaper sourcing factories, following Schneider appointment in January. Since then more and more workers have joined unions and organized demonstrations calling for Schneider and her team to step down, accusing her of working with New York State Hedge fund Standard General to bankrupt the company and sell it off. Schneider, who undoubtedly did not expect this amount of controversy to follow her when she succeeded Charney, apologized for the protest afterwards in a memo sent to staff.
In the memo, which was obtained by Buzzfeed, she accuses the demonstrators of using "intimidation tactics" and violence to achieve their goals. She argues the demonstrators behaviour, which includes picketing at American Apparel stores and scaring away customers will only result in lost sales which means lost jobs. "I would encourage all of our employees to support our company, and not tear it down," she stresses. Schneider adds that when she took on the role eight months ago, she was tasked with turning around a company that lost over 340 million dollars over the past 5 years, and had not been profitable since 2009, no easy feat.
Nevertheless she continues to be the main target of protests as not everyone at AA and elsewhere is on board with her new image for the company. For example, she caused a small public outcry in March when she had models nipples and pubic hair erased from AA images online and later removed a series of images depicting the factories workers. However, Schneider remain determined to continue her mission, no matter what. "All I'm trying to do is take care of the family and the kids, you know, and move this forward," she said in an interview with Elle last month. "Honestly, I have so much work to do that I can't be bothered with all the noise...I just lower the curtains."