Although cheap clothing can be appealing to consumers, the garment workers who made it in 2022 were often taken advantage of in Southern California, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
The Labor Department said it randomly surveyed more than 50 garment-sewing contractors and manufacturers and found that 80% violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. In one case, “a contractor paid garment workers as little as $1.58 per hour,” according to the report.
The contractors and manufacturers included in the Southern California Garment Survey produced items for a wide range of retailers, including Bombshell Sportswear, Dillard’s, Lulus, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Socialite, Stitch Fix and Von Maur.
“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.”
Garment workers continue to be victims of wage theft and illegal pay practices, the department said. More than half the employers were found to be “illegally paying workers part or all their wages off the books, with payroll records either deliberately forged or not provided,” the report said.
According to the report, in 32% of cases, workers earned piece-rate wages, a practice outlawed by California on Jan. 1, 2022. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill that mandated hourly pay for garment workers, saying SB 62 would “protect marginalized low-wage workers, many of whom are women of color and immigrants.”
In fiscal year 2021-22, Southern California investigators helped recover more than $892,000 in back wages and liquidated damages for 296 workers, the report said.
This accounts for a small fraction of the 40,000 garment workers in Los Angeles, according to Protect LA’s Garment Jobs, a campaign by the Garment Worker Center. Some 1,400 manufacturers and contractors are clustered around downtown L.A.’s Fashion District.
The Garment Worker Center took part Tuesday morning in a protest outside Los Angeles City Hall, calling on the City Council to protect garment workers from what it sees as gentrification brought on by zoning changes in the Downtown Community Plan, or DTLA 2040.