[Marxism] Al Meyerhoff

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 25 08:26:50 MST 2008

NY Times, December 25, 2008
Al Meyerhoff, Legal Voice for the Poor, Dies at 61

Al Meyerhoff, a leading labor, environmental and civil rights lawyer 
who brought a landmark case to stop sweatshop conditions for 30,000 
workers on the Pacific island of Saipan, died on Sunday in Los 
Angeles, where he lived. He was 61.

The cause was complications of leukemia, his wife, Marcia Brandwynne, said.

Mr. Meyerhoff, a loud, friendly bear of a man with a thick mane of 
tousled hair, rose to prominence in several legal fields. As a civil 
rights litigator, he successfully challenged a California law that 
prevented illegal immigrant children from attending public school. As 
an environmental lawyer — he worked for the Natural Resources Defense 
Council for 17 years — he challenged the continued use of 
cancer-causing pesticides.

As a labor lawyer, he was co-lead counsel in suing Gap, Nordstrom, 
Ralph Lauren and 20 other retailers, accused of obtaining garments 
from Saipan factories that used guard dogs and had barbed-wire 
fences. Many of the workers, some of whom Mr. Meyerhoff said were 
indentured servants, were immigrants from China who had paid several 
thousand dollars to work in Saipan and were forced to toil 12 hours a 
day, seven days a week, often without overtime pay.

"Saipan is America's worst sweatshop," Mr. Meyerhoff said in an 
interview with The New York Times in 1999, referring to the island in 
the Northern Marianas Islands, an American commonwealth near the 
Philippines. The lawsuit was one of the most ambitious ever brought 
against sweatshops, sending a signal to sweatshop owners in dozens of 
countries to improve conditions.

As part of the $20 million settlement, the apparel companies agreed 
to pay back wages, follow a code of workplace conduct and pay for an 
independent monitor to inspect the Saipan factories. Mr. Meyerhoff 
waived any fees.

Over the decades, Mr. Meyerhoff produced numerous op-ed articles for 
The Los Angeles Times and The Huffington Post Web site, many letters 
in The New York Times and The Washington Post and articles in law 
journals and environmental magazines. He also testified 50 times 
before Congressional committees.

"I was meant to do this work," Mr. Meyerhoff told online magazine of 
the Cornell University Law School this year.

Albert Henry Meyerhoff Jr. was born in Ellington, Conn., on Sept. 20, 
1947. He told the Cornell Web magazine that as a boy he was harassed 
by bullies and that as a result he developed "an active dislike of 
the abuse of power."

Mr. Meyerhoff graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1969 
and from the Cornell law school in 1972. After law school, he turned 
down a high-paying corporate law job to take a $60-a-week position 
with California Rural Legal Assistance, which represented migrant 
workers and the rural poor. In one lawsuit, he challenged the 
University of California over its underwriting of research on farm 
mechanization, saying it hurt farm workers and family farms.

In 1981 Mr. Meyerhoff joined the Natural Resources Defense Council 
and became director of its public health program. He helped pressure 
the chemical industry to adopt tougher standards on pesticides by 
invoking a rarely used amendment under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic 
Act that prohibited the use of animal carcinogens in processed foods. 
His litigation helped persuade the industry to ban several dozen 
carcinogenic pesticides.

In 1988, he joined Coughlin Stoia, a class action law firm, from 
which he brought the Saipan lawsuit, sued Enron and challenged 
Mexican cross-border trucking, asserting that it violated United 
States health and safety standards.

Besides his wife, he is survived by his daughter, Leah, of New York 
City, his mother, Ruth, of Ellington, Conn., and his brothers, George 
of Van Nuys, Calif., and Alan of Panama City, Fla.

"He was a warrior against the chemical industry," Frances Beinecke, 
president of the N.R.D.C., said of Mr. Meyerhoff. "He was a champion 
of the underserved. He fought long and hard to make the world a safer 
place for farm workers, for kids, for people working in factories and 
for people living in poverty who couldn't represent themselves." 

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