Longform

Vested Interests

Page 3 of 5

And it did. Although eventually successful, the effort to form a union resulted in three lawsuits filed in local and federal courts, including one in which Point Blank alleged that UNITE officials, in their bid to organize employees, defamed the company with claims of quality problems.

"Point Blank in our opinion was as difficult to deal with as any company we'd ever dealt with," remembers Harris Raynor, UNITE's vice president.

To defend itself against Point Blank's claims, attorneys for UNITE in November 2002 submitted to federal court more than 150 pages that alleged quality problems with Point Blank's body armor.

Among the documents was an April 2002 test by the New York Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau of body armor that Point Blank sold to the New York Police Department. The test of 1,000 vests found more than 900 to be defective. The safety bureau discovered that a number of vests were improperly sized, leaving an officer's abdomen exposed. Others did not perform as they should have, failing to stop bullets that they were designed to resist. In one example, the report stated, "The bullet went right through the protective panels. Had this been on the body of a police officer, the officer would have been either seriously injured or dead."

U.S. military troops in Afghanistan reported similar problems. According to a Department of Defense report, 43 percent of soldiers in Operation Enduring Freedom complained that Point Blank's body armor "hindered their mobility." Sizing seemed to be a problem, the report concluded. "One soldier was shot through the side and the bullet passed between the front and rear armor by the sizing strap..." the report noted. "Soldiers complained that the armholes are too small and that they lose circulation."

But even more startling was the fact that Point Blank officials not only knew of quality and sizing concerns but they tacitly condoned the sale of defective or improperly sized body armor, according to 17 sworn affidavits filed by workers in the company's Oakland Park factory. Among the charges:



Umberto de la Cruz, a ten-year employee, claimed that the company sent him to a class on quality control. "I do not know why they had me go through this class," he said. "I've never really been able to use what I learned. I worked nearly two months on quality control in the production line. They stopped having me do that because I found too many quality control problems. Sandra Hatfield would tell people that if [the order] has to go out, then it goes out." De la Cruz also claimed that sizing labels would be changed to fill orders and that defective body armor was knowingly sent to the military. He said: "We shipped an order of around 80 FSBE [Full Spectrum Battle Equipment] vests to the U.S. military in Arlington, Virginia. Where they go after that I do not know. What I do know is that the ballistics, which is the Kevlar protective fabric, was not cut to fit into the shoulders of the outer shell. This leaves the shoulders exposed to bullets getting through the vest. I brought this to the attention of Wayne Kolbeck, the quality control manager. Kolbeck said the order had to be there the next day, so let it go like that. Before the shipment and after, they sent a lot of orders out bad like this."

Ana Garcia, a four-year employee of the company who worked in quality control, claimed that she once inspected 300 to 400 Interceptor OTVs and found that they were labeled "large" despite having medium-sized collars. "I said to Ricky [Brown, the supervisor] that these collars are not made well because the collars are smaller than the jacket," she said. "Ricky went to the office and returned and told me that the vests were OK, that they should pass."

Milagros Santos, who worked at the company for six years sewing jackets, said she would often complain to management that the "ballistics," the protective Kevlar material, were too large or small for the vests into which they needed to be sewed. "When it's cut too large, we try to fix it with scissors," Santos said of the Kevlar plate. "When it is too small, we sew it as best we can. However, we still send out a lot of work which is too large or too small."

Manuela Negreira, who worked at the company for five years sewing jackets, said she would often be ordered to sew small-sized ballistics into medium-sized vests. "When the ballistic is smaller than the cover, it moves around," she said. "I don't think it provides adequate protection."



KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Trevor Aaronson
Contact: Trevor Aaronson