Yes, we’re quoting the white tag that’s supposed to be attached to all new mattresses. It’s easy to make fun of the tags, which seem trivial and downright silly to most consumers.
State and federal laws require the tags to inform consumers that a mattress complies with flammability standards. It’s a safety measure. Other tags — yellow ones — are required if a mattress is refurbished and contains used materials.
The tags are no joke to Jim Hughes, a consumer who received two mattresses on Nov. 24 for his children, Montgomery, 8, and Caroline, 5, as part of a government program.
The mattresses appeared to be clean and were wrapped in plastic upon delivery, but when the Bayonne man noticed there were no tags, he started asking questions. No one had answers, he said, so he contacted Bamboozled.
We found some answers all right, along with a mattress manufacturer that appears to be defying a judge’s order to stop selling products that may not meet federal or state safety standards.
NEW, USED OR OTHERWISE?
Hughes said he was concerned about the potential health issues surrounding mattresses because he recalled watching an investigative television program about refurbished ones. The show told the tale of a child who became sick after sleeping on a supposedly refurbished mattress that was improperly sanitized.
Hughes said he called the company that delivered the mattresses — Alba Furniture of Union City — to ask about the missing tags.
“They assured me that the mattresses are brand new,” Hughes said. “These mattresses have no tags whatsoever. My questions were met with silence on this issue.”
We called Alba Furniture.
Owner Leo Hernandez told Bamboozled Hughes must be mistaken.
“They all leave here with tags,” he said, and at our request he agreed to send someone to inspect the mattresses.
In the meantime, Bamboozled arranged for Star-Ledger photographer Saed Hindash to visit the Hughes home to take pictures of the family and the mattresses.
Minutes after Hindash arrived, the doorbell rang. Workers from Alba Furniture had arrived to take away the questionable mattresses and to deliver two new ones. Our photographer looked at the mattresses before they walked out the door.
Hindash said as far as he could see, the original mattresses didn’t have any tags.
“The mattress guy who showed up to exchange the mattresses, he rotated them before he took them. He looked and he said, ‘Alright, that gets you the new ones,’” Hindash said. “When he brought the new ones, you could clearly see the tags.”
We called Alba to ask why it decided to deliver new mattresses.
Owner Leo Hernandez didn’t explain why, but said again Hughes was mistaken about the tags. Hernandez said the mattresses generally come with two tags: the one that says “Do not remove under penalty of law” and a second that’s an advertisement for the mattress company. He said Hughes was wrong and the mattresses were missing the ad tag, not the “Do not remove” tag.
Hernandez said the manufacturer told him it had one production week when it ran out of advertisement tags, and that’s why the mattresses were lacking those. The “Do not remove” tags, Hernandez insisted, were on the mattresses.
The old mattresses were taken back to Alba Furniture, Hughes had new mattresses and we thought the story was over.
THE MORNING AFTER
The morning after Hughes received his mattresses, Alba Furniture’s Hernandez called Bamboozled again. He said he made a mistake.
“I had it backwards,” Hernandez said, explaining that he mixed up the tags. He said Hughes was correct: The mattresses lacked the tags that are required by law.
“We don’t manufacture the mattresses. We buy them from somebody,” he said. “We have no way of seeing. We’d have to check every single mattress. The manufacturer should have. He’s the one who’s at fault.”
Hernandez said his company would end its relationship with the mattress manufacturer, Brooklyn Sleep Products of Williamsburg, N.Y., and his company would return its extra inventory.
Whether or not Alba Furniture should check every mattress is not for Bamboozled to decide, but we did have questions about Brooklyn Sleep Products.
A Google search found a 2008 investigation about mattress refurbishing by Dateline NBC — the only such documentary we could find, and probably the television program Hughes saw and remembered so well.
The mattress manufacturer in question? Brooklyn Sleep Products.
The show tracked a bedbug-laden mattress that was taken off the street and delivered to Brooklyn Sleep Products for refurbishing. A hidden camera showed used mattresses stored with new ones before they were sold. Mattresses purchased from Brooklyn and tested by the show found bedbugs, urine, fecal matter, fungi and bacteria, the report said.
TV reporters weren’t the only ones looking at the mattress manufacturer.
In the summer of 2008, several of Brooklyn’s Model 700 mattresses — the same model delivered to the Hughes family — failed an unannounced Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC flammability test. The mattresses didn’t do any better in subsequent testing performed in March 2009 and February 2010, according to court documents.
CPSC took Brooklyn Sleep Products to court in the fall of 2010. A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction on Oct. 19 prohibiting the firm from manufacturing, importing or selling mattresses that fail to comply with federal flammability standards, CPSC spokeswoman Patty Davis said.
Court documents filed by CPSC contend Brooklyn Sleep Products also didn’t abide by tagging regulations.
Then Bamboozled received another call from Alba Furniture.
Hernandez said again that he was mistaken. He said there were rips in the plastic covering on the mattresses that were picked up from the Hughes home, and there were stubs where the “Do not remove” tags had been ripped off. Hernandez suggested Hughes, or maybe his kids, while playing, removed the tags.
Hernandez even e-mailed photos to prove his statement, but Bamboozled has no way of authenticating that the photos are, or are not, of Hughes’ mattresses.
We went back to Hindash, The Star-Ledger photographer, to see what he made of Hernandez’ claim.
“I don’t recall seeing any rips in the plastic except for where the manufacturer puts its label, on the top of the mattress,” Hindash said, noting the “Do not remove” tags he saw on the new mattresses were on the sides.
STILL IN BUSINESS?
Bamboozled wondered: If the preliminary injunction against Brooklyn Sleep Products was granted Oct. 19, when did Alba Furniture receive the disputed mattresses from the manufacturer?
Alba Furniture said it took shipments from Brooklyn Sleep Products on Nov. 15 and 16, and the original mattresses received by Hughes came from those shipments.
Bamboozled left several messages for Brooklyn Sleep Products, but our calls were not returned. We finally got through to “Jose,” who said he’d pass the message to owner Francisco Chavez, who would be out of the country for a few days.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the manufacturer is ongoing.
“CPSC, along with the Justice Department, is continuing to pursue the case in federal court,” said the CPSC spokeswoman.
We’ll let you know what happens.