by David Phinney
Friday September 25th 2020

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Rally Presses for Investigation of Point Blank Body Armor

Target Prevails: The Miami Herald. This story pre-dates the national scandal of faulty Point Blank body armor provided to troops in Afghanistan by almost three years  (Sept. 19, 2002). For example of later reporting, see MSNBC.com.

By DAVID PHINNEY
Members of Congress joined union leaders and workers in demands that the Defense Department investigate an Oakland Park, Fla., military contractor for what they claim are defective bulletproof vests used by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan .

At a press conference held Thursday outside a congressional office building, Point Blank Body Armor shipping clerk, Umberto de la Cruz of Tamarac, accused his company of reusing old material to make new products and said that inferior-grade gear is sometimes passed off as being of higher quality.

Point Blank is a leading provider of body armor to the U.S. military and police departments around the country. It presently holds a six-year, $350-million agreement with the Defense Department to provide body armor.

De la Cruz also claimed that company management routinely told workers to fill orders with improperly sized bulletproof vests after switching size labels.

“I brought these problems to the attention of supervisors,” de la Cruz said. “Their response is always to let the products go out.”

The shipping clerk and more than 200 other workers at the Point Blank factory have been embroiled in a labor strike since Aug. 9 after the company locked out employees and fired three workers who are labor organizers.

“This is not just a labor dispute,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., who represents Oakland Park. “This is an issue of protecting our soldiers.”

Hastings, who has taken the lead in attempting to rally congressional support for a Defense Department investigation, said that 100,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere use Point Blank vests and armor.

He and others at the news briefing said that the ongoing labor strike may exacerbate problems with product quality.

In recent weeks, the New York City Police Department investigated possible flaws in Point Blank body armor, including as many as 5,000 vests, according to published news reports.

The NYPD has conducted a series of tests, which found that the protective gear fails to stop bullets in some cases.

The Army is also investigating complaints from U.S. troops in Afghanistan who reported that improper sizing of body armor hindered mobility.

Point Blank is the sole producer of the Interceptor body armor widely used by US troops in Afghanistan. One soldier had been killed while wearing the Point Blank armor, according to those speaking at Thursday’s news conference.

A Point Blank spokesman said allegations of defective products are “absolutely untrue. He said De la Cruz lacked any knowledge of quality controls at the Oakland Park factory.

“These allegations are being made by a striking employee,” said Paul Donofrio, executive vice president of DHB Industries, Inc., the New York company that owns Point Blank. “He is completely unfamiliar with production and has no knowledge of quality assurances.”

Union officials say that de la Cruz has been with Point Blank for 18 years and that he has held a number of jobs with the company.

“He has a very good sense of the quality,” said Chris Chafe, a spokesman for the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees. “As a shipping clerk, he knows what goes out and what is returned.”

Chafe also said that more than a dozen other employees have signed affidavits making similar claims of faulty and mislabeled products.

Donofrio said that problems with Point Blank and the New York Police Department have also been overblown, and were settled on Thursday.

“We have agreed to provide 1,000 free replacement vests of a higher quality than the ones that were originally sourced,” he said. “The big picture is that we retained the New York Police as a customer, so clearly they have confidence in our company.”

Still, members of Congress will continue to press for a full investigation of the company, said David Goldenberg, a legislative aide to Hastings .

“A settlement with the NYPD does not negate the fact that there is a problem,” he said.

Last month, ten members of the House Armed Services Committee signed a letter to Point Blank in support of the striking workers and Hastings was barred from entering the factory after attempting to meet with company officials.

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