[Marxism] Al Meyerhoff
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
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
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
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
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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