Widespread labor violations in Los Angeles’ garment industry

The Washington Post reports on sub-minimum wages paid to immigrant workers in the Los Angeles garment industry, which employs 45,000.

It writes, “While immigrants often face criticism for stealing jobs, they are the ones being increasingly undercut in America’s clothing industry, forced to accept wages below the legal minimum as retailers fight to pass on bargain prices to consumers. Federal regulators have uncovered a widespread practice of garment workers, most of them undocumented, being paid below the legal minimum wage, according to a recent Department of Labor report. Those findings were echoed in interviews with workers and workers activists here.

This recent report appears to be that published by the Department of Labor on December 22, called “Garment Industry’s Wage Violations Share Common Thread,” which in the follow short passage concisely states the problem. It is authored by David Weil, the administrator of the department’s Wage and Hour Division.

“The heart of the problem lies squarely with the pricing structure dictated by the retailers in this industry. The prices they pay for garments fail to support manufacturers’ ability to provide sewing contractors even the most basic worker protections – minimum wage and overtime. We have found many workers like Esperanza making $4 per hour or even less.

On average, contractors receive only 73 percent of the price they would need in order to support paying these workers the absolute minimum allowed by law. In one time study, the actual sewing fee paid to the contractor by the manufacturer was just $1.80, when, based upon our analysis, the fee should have been $4.67 to allow the person who sewed it to be paid the minimum wage. In some cases, retailers were paying $4 for a garment, when they would need to be paying manufacturers more than $10 to support paying workers legally. Any less than that, and someone is being cheated.

In conjunction with this study, we conducted 77 investigations of randomly selected garment shops in Los Angeles in 2015 and 2016, and uncovered violations in 85 percent of them. We found more than $1.3 million in unpaid wages due to workers and also assessed employers more than $65,000 in penalties. Since the shops were randomly selected, these results reveal the high underlying rate of noncompliance in the industry that results from the low prices driving the system.”

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