Southern California garment workers suffered wage theft and illegal pay practices last year

Garment workers in Southern California faced wage loss and widespread illegal pay practices last year from manufacturers and contractors, according to a report from the Labor Department.

The federal agency canvassed more than 50 contractors and manufacturers for its 2022 Southern California Garment Worker Survey and found that 80% of them were violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. More than 50% of the employers were “illegally paying workers part or all their wages off the books, with payroll records either deliberately forged or not provided,” the report 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,” Ruben Rosalez, a regional administrator for the Labor Department in San Francisco, said in a news release. “Many people shopping for clothes in stores and online are likely unaware that the ‘Made in the USA’ merchandise they’re buying was, in fact, made by people earning far less than the U.S. law requires.”

Southern California is home to the nation’s largest apparel producing hub. In Los Angeles alone, more than 45,000 garment workers are contracted among the more than 1,800 registered garment manufacturers and contractors clustered within or adjacent to the downtown Fashion District, according to the Garment Worker Center, a local workers rights group for low-wage employees.

The majority of garment workers in Los Angeles are women, most of them from Mexico and Central America. During the pandemic when supply chains were disrupted, garment workers were essential to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s L.A. Protects program, which produced millions of masks and personal protective equipment for the general public across the nation. 

In total, the city’s garment sector is responsible for producing 83% of the total cut-and-sew apparel sales domestically.

In 32% of the cases studied by the Labor Department, contractors were paying garment workers piece-rate wages, a practice that was ended by the state Jan. 1 last year.

In one case, workers were paid as little as $1.58 per hour. 


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