Sweat-free Policy in New York

“Sweatfree” provisions are scattered through several volumes of the New York State laws: Labor Law, General Municipal Law, Education Law, and State Finance Law*. These provisions apply to various levels of government – – currently the state university system, the community colleges and school districts – – and they affect purchases of apparel and sports equipment. In the past, there was a provision that applied to state agencies as part of a post-9/11 law that gave preference to apparel businesses affected by the 9/11 attack. This latter provision has now expired due to sunset dates.

The text of the laws and bills can be found on the New York State Assembly web site.** 

In semi-chronological order, in 1986 a bill was signed into law establishing within the Labor Department a special task force for the apparel industry (Laws of 1986, chapter 764 [L. 1986, c. 764]). This was Article 12-A of the Labor Law, consisting of sections 340 through 348 of the Labor Law. (Other sections were added later.) Apparel manufacturers and contractors, in the context of the special task force’s authority, are those making apparel within New York State. The definitions of manufacturer and contractor specifically limited these roles to a “person who…performs in New York state the cutting, sewing, finishing, assembling, pressing or otherwise producing” of apparel.

Labor Law Article 12-A authorized the Commissioner of Labor to establish a special task force for the apparel industry for the purpose of “concentrating enforcement” of the Labor Law affecting production employees in the apparel industry in New York State (Labor Law section 342). The task force’s duties are to inspect manufacturers and contractors, and to ensure compliance with the Labor Law and with orders issued by the Labor Commissioner under this article (Labor Law section 343). Apparel industry manufacturers and contractors are require to register with the Department of Labor (Labor Law section 341). Penalties were established for violating the registration requirement, with additional provisions added later for violations of wage laws (Labor Law section 345).

In 1998, the law regarding the task force was amended to provide that the Commissioner is authorized to tag any article of apparel as “unlawfully manufactured” if it was manufactured in violation of Labor Law Article 6 or 19 (Labor Law section 341-a; Article 6 is payment of wages and Article 19 is minimum wage). In 2004, Labor Law section 342 was amended to provide for an internet listing of violators (L. 2004, c. 41).

An early “sweatfree” purchasing law was the “sweatfree schools” bill that amended the General Municipal Law in 2001 (L. 2001, c. 227). It provided that, notwithstanding other laws, boards of education shall have authority to determine that a bidder on a contract for apparel is not a responsible bidder based upon applicable labor standards, or upon the bidder’s failure to provide information sufficient for the board to “determine the labor standards applicable to the manufacture of the apparel,” or both. It also granted similar authority in situations where the procurement was not required to be made by competitive bidding. These amendments were General Municipal Law section 103(12) and General Municipal Law section 104-b, respectively.

This law does not require school boards to adopt sweat-free policies for apparel purchases, but it allows them to do so. Following passage of the law, the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State worked to encourage school boards to exercise the authority they had been given. This law initially applied only to apparel but was amended in 2003 to include sports equipment (L. 2003, c. 562). The law applies to apparel and sports equipment without reference to where these products are made.

In 2002, a law was passed that amended the Labor Law, the State Finance Law and the Education Law to do several things concerning apparel purchases by state agencies, the State University of New York (SUNY), the City University of New York (CUNY) and community colleges (L.2002, c.350). This law is sometimes referred to as the “post-9/11 apparel law,” the “9/11 bidders registry” or similar things. The official name is the “New York State Apparel Workers Fair Labor Conditions and Procurement Act.” Parts of this law are still in effect but other parts of it have expired due to sunset dates. A provision concerning apparel purchases by state agencies is among the things that have expired.

This law, among other things, established a “special September eleventh bidders registry” that would list apparel manufacturers and contractors that were adversely impacted by the 9/11 attack and that were in compliance with labor-related laws for five years prior to 9/11/01 (former Labor Law section 349). In the context of Labor Law Article 12-A, of which section 349 was a part, it applied to manufacturers and contractors who make apparel within New York State.

Chapter 350 of the laws of 2002 also amended State Finance Law section 162 to include apparel companies on the 9/11 registry as preferred sources for state agency purchasing, along with the correctional industries program, non-profit agencies for blind persons and other preferred sources (L. 2002, c. 350, sections 5, 6 and 7). The 9/11 registry companies do not appear to have been included in the ranking of preferred sources that is in State Finance Law section 162(4), however. Instead, a new subdivision 4-a was added to State Finance Law section 162 that pertained to priority in purchasing requirements for apparel or textiles. This section 162(4-a) has now expired, but it contained a requirement that, if the state seeks to purchase apparel or textiles pursuant to bid, the following conditions apply: “the bid shall include a statement that a state agency shall not enter into a contract to purchase or obtain for any purpose any apparel from a bidder unable or unwilling to provide documentation as part of its bid: (A) attesting that such apparel was manufactured in compliance with all applicable labor and occupational safely laws, including, but not limited to, child labor laws, wage and hour laws and workplace safety laws; (B) stating, if known, the name and address of each subcontractor to be utilized; and (C) stating, if known, all manufacturing plants utilized by the bidder or subcontractor” (former State Finance Law section 162(4-a)).

The law also authorized the “various units of” SUNY, CUNY and the community colleges to determine that a bidder on an apparel purchase contract is not a responsible bidder based on labor standards or the bidder’s failure to provide information to determine the labor conditions under which the apparel was made. This authority was set forth as Labor Law section 213-a, which applies to SUNY, CUNY and the community colleges, plus very similar sections applicable to SUNY and CUNY (State Finance Law section 165(7)) and the community colleges (Education Law section 6302). All three of these sections also provide that the institutions’ policies may prohibit purchase of apparel for these reasons in situations where competitive bidding is not required.

In these sections, a bidder may be excluded based upon “the labor standards applicable to the manufacture of the apparel, including but not limited to employee compensation, working conditions, employee rights to form unions, and the use of child labor” and/or “the bidder’s failure to provide information sufficient for the state agency or corporation [sic] to determine the labor conditions applicable to the manufacture of the apparel.” The language about vendors in non-bid situations is similar.

The legislative intent section of the 2002 law (L. 2002, c. 350, section 2) mentions, “The city of New York has recently enacted legislation to ensure that the labor standards utilized in the manufacture of its apparel are decent and just.” This was probably a reference to section 6-124 of the New York City Administrative Code.

The sections about the 9/11 bidders registry and about purchasing by state agencies originally had a sunset date of September 1, 2005 (L. 2002, c. 350, section 12). This sunset date was extended, and sections were deemed repealed on September 1, 2008 (see historical note for L. 2002, c.350 following State Finance Law section 162 in McKinney’s Consolidated Laws of NYS).

In 2003, amendments were adopted that added “sports equipment” to the sweatfree apparel laws pertaining to SUNY, CUNY and school districts (L. 2003, c.562).

In the 2009-2010 session of the legislature, Assembly Member Peter Rivera proposed a bill that would have required the state university trustees to adopt and enforce a sweat-free code of conduct equal to or better than that of the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), would have required SUNY campuses to affiliate with the WRC, would have provided for termination of contracts with manufacturers if they violate the code of conduct, and would have required that there be a representative of SUNY on the special task force on the apparel industry (2009-2010 session, A. 7376, S. 5609).  The version of the bill that’s on the Assembly web site is A. 7376-A, meaning that it was amended from the initial version. The amended Assembly bill was the same as a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, S. 5609 of that same legislative session.

SUNY issued a memorandum of opposition to A. 7376, stating essentially that the bill was unnecessary because SUNY was in full compliance with State Finance Law section 165(7) and that SUNY had adopted an anti-sweatshop policy. SUNY also objected to being required to become a dues-paying member of the WRC and disputed the bill sponsor’s assertion that SUNY was purchasing apparel made in sweatshop conditions.

In the 2013-2014 session of the legislature, Sen. Hassell-Thompson again introduced what appears to be the same bill, with a few dates updated.  The 2013-2014 bill was S. 3351.  There was no Assembly “same as” bill in the 2013-2014 legislative session. A new bill would need to be introduced for this idea to be pursued in a future session.

Provisions applicable to various levels of government or institutions:

Department of Labor: Labor Law Article 12-A (Labor Law sections 340 through 349-a)

State agency purchasing: formerly State Finance Law section 162(4-a), currently there does not appear to be one. There were related provisions in State Finance Law subdivisions 162(1), (2) and (3) that have now also expired.

SUNY: Labor Law section 213-a and State Finance Law section 165(7))

CUNY: Labor Law section 213-a and State Finance Law section 165(7))

Community Colleges: Labor Law section 213-a and Education Law section 6302

School Districts: General Municipal Law section 103(12) and General Municipal Law section 104-b(6)

Compiled by Susan Dubois, Sweatfree New York, January 2016

*This document was initially written in late 2014 as background information related to what became the “SUNY and Sweatshops: How is SUNY Enforcing its Apparel Anti-Sweatshop Policy?” report. It is possible that there are additional sweatshop-avoidance laws on the books in NY State that were not found in preparing this summary.

**For the history of what section was added or amended when, it helps to look at the historical notes after each section of law in the paper volumes of McKinney’s Consolidated Laws of New York State, plus the Session Laws of New York (annual volumes).