Wage and Hour Division (WHD)
U.S. Department of Labor
US Labor Department conducts enforcement initiative to end sweatshop conditions in Los Angeles’ Fashion District, Southern California garment industry
Focus is on protecting workers, educating employers, informing public about labor violations
LOS ANGELES -- The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is conducting a multiyear enforcement initiative focused on Southern California’s garment industry, in which it historically has found consistent and widespread violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping provisions. The initiative is concentrating on employers in Los Angeles and Orange counties, as well as those operating out of large garment buildings in Los Angeles’ Fashion District.
“The success of our nation relies on opportunity and fairness for America’s workers,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “The Department of Labor is committed to ensuring that all workers are fully and properly compensated. After all, their earnings put food on the table, provide shelter for their families and permit them to spend their wages in our local communities at a time when local businesses need them most.”
In the past five years alone, the Wage and Hour Division’s Los Angeles, San Diego and West Covina offices have conducted more than 1,500 investigations of employers in Southern California’s garment industry. Ninety-three percent of these investigations uncovered violations, and the division found more than $11 million in back wages due to approximately 11,000 workers. Investigators have found that garment workers typically are paid for each piece they sew or cut, and sometimes their pay is as low as the equivalent of $6 per hour – well below the federal minimum wage. These employees also often work six or seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day, with no overtime pay.
Teams of Wage and Hour Division staff, joined by officials from California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, are conducting investigations that include thorough reviews of payroll records, surveillance of employment practices and employee interviews. When violations are found, the division will use all enforcement tools available – including litigation, civil money penalties, liquidated damages and “hot goods” injunction – to recover workers’ wages and ensure compliance under the law. The hot goods provision of the FLSA prohibits the shipment in interstate commerce of goods that have been produced in violation of the act’s minimum wage, overtime or child labor provisions.
In addition to enforcement efforts, the Wage and Hour Division is conducting outreach to inform workers of their rights under federal labor laws, and is contacting community organizations, faith-based groups, local and state agencies, and other stakeholders to engage their participation in promoting compliance. The Wage and Hour Division also is providing FLSA compliance assistance and education to employers and industry associations. “For two decades, the Wage and Hour Division has been combating sweatshop-like conditions and working to achieve sustainable compliance in the high-risk garment industry, which employs some of the most vulnerable workers in the country. These employees are reluctant to file a complaint when subject to labor violations,” said Ruben Rosalez, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the West. “Retailers, manufacturers and contractors must do more to end this exploitation of vulnerable workers. This enforcement initiative serves as a wake-up call to the entire fashion industry that it needs to work with us to end these violations.”
The Wage and Hour Division will make public the results of its investigations under this initiative later this year, including the employers found in violation of the law, as well as information on the supply chain in which the contractors operate.
The FLSA requires that covered employees be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour as well as time and one-half their regular rates for hours worked over 40 per week. In general, “hours worked” includes all time an employee must be on duty, or on the employer’s premises or at any other prescribed place of work, from the beginning of the first principal work activity to the end of the last principal activity of the workday. Additionally, the law requires that accurate records of employees’ wages, hours and other conditions of employment be maintained.
Accessible and searchable information on enforcement activities by the Department of Labor is available at http://ogesdw.dol.gov/search. Publicly available enforcement data are also available through the free mobile application “Eat Shop Sleep,” which enables consumers, employees and other members of the public to check if a hotel, restaurant or retail location has been investigated by the Wage and Hour Division, and whether FLSA violations were found. The app is available at https://sites.google.com/site/eatshopsleepdol.
Information about the FLSA is available by contacting the Wage and Hour Division’s offices in Los Angeles at 213-894-6375, West Covina at 626-966-0478 or Orange County at 714-621-1650. Additionally, information about all of the federal labor laws enforced by the Wage and Hour Division is available in English, Spanish, Korean and other languages by calling the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or visiting its website at http://www.dol.gov/whd.
U.S. Department of Labor releases are accessible on the Internet at www.dol.gov. The information in this news release will be made available in alternate format (large print, Braille, audio tape or disc) from the COAST office upon request. Please specify which news release when placing your request at (202) 693-7828 or TTY (202) 693-7755. The Labor Department is committed to providing America’s employers and employees with easy access to understandable information on how to comply with its laws and regulations. For more information, please visit www.dol.gov/compliance.