Garment workers in Southern California victims of wage theft: survey

Garment workers in Southern California victims of wage theft: survey



Many workers who make garments sold by top fashion retailers in Southern California’s garment-sewing industry are still victims of wage theft and illegal pay practices, according to the 2022 Southern California Garment Survey by the US Department of Labor.

The survey, which collected data from over 50 contractors and manufacturers, found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 80 per cent of investigations, with employers illegally paying workers off the books in more than 50 per cent of cases.

The survey also found that 32 per cent of contractors paid garment workers piece-rate wages, which is now prohibited by the State of California. Contractors and manufacturers surveyed included those producing garments for top national retailers.

In one particular case, investigators learned that a contractor paid garment workers as little as $1.58 per hour. In response, investigations by the division’s Southern California district offices recovered over $892,000 in back wages and liquidated damages for 296 workers.

The survey also found that sewing fees paid by manufacturers to contractors were often not enough for them to pay their workers required minimum wages. On average, the sewing fee was $2.75 below the amount needed per garment to comply with federal wage standards. Contractors who paid employees in compliance with the law received a higher sewing fee, ranging from $17.50 to $35 per garment.

The US Department of Labor is taking action to ensure compliance with the FLSA, including securing agreements with manufacturers to monitor contractors. As part of the survey, the department also hosted a listening session in Los Angeles with garment workers and stakeholders to address these issues.

Ruben Rosalez, wage and hour regional administrator in San Francisco, said: “Despite our efforts to hold Southern California’s garment industry employers accountable, we continue to see people who make clothes sold by some of the nation’s leading retailers working in sweatshops. Many people shopping for clothes in stores and online are likely unaware that the ‘Made in the US’ merchandise they’re buying was, in fact, made by people earning far less than the US law requires.

“The findings of the Southern California Garment Survey highlight why greater outreach and stronger enforcement are needed to combat the inequities that exist in the garment and fashion industries. The wage and hour division will continue to work and meet with advocates and industry stakeholders and remain focused on holding accountable the manufacturers and retailers who reap significant profits while the people who did the hard work are too often not paid their rightful wages.”

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