Unfit wages: US Department of Labor survey finds widespread violations by Southern California garment industry contractors, manufacturers
LOS ANGELES – A survey of Southern California garment-sewing contractors and manufacturers by the U.S. Department of Labor has found workers making garments sold by many of the nation’s leading fashion retailers often continue to be victims of wage theft and employers’ illegal pay practices.
Based on data from more than 50 contractors and manufacturers, the 2022 Southern California Garment Survey released today by the department’s Wage and Hour Division found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 80 percent of its investigations. More than 50 percent of the time, the division found employers illegally paying workers part or all their wages off the books, with payroll records either deliberately forged or not provided.
The fiscal year 2022 survey also found 32 percent of contractors paying garment workers piece-rate wages, a practice prohibited by the State of California on Jan. 1, 2022. Contractors and manufacturers included in the survey produce garments for sale by national retailers that include Bombshell Sportswear, Dillard’s, Lulus, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Socialite, Stitch Fix and Von Maur.
In a particularly egregious case, division investigators learned a contractor paid garment workers as little as $1.58 per hour.
In FY 2022, investigations by the division’s Southern California district offices in Los Angeles, San Diego and West Covina led to the recovery of more than $892,000 in back wages and liquidated damages for 296 workers. The division also secured agreements with manufacturers to monitor contractors to ensure FLSA compliance.
“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,” said Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Ruben Rosalez in San Francisco. “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.”
As part of the survey, the division conducted time and pricing studies and found that sewing fees paid by manufacturers to contractors were – on average – not enough for the contractors to properly pay their workers’ required minimum wages. Specifically, the studies determined the average sewing fee was $2.75 below the amount needed per garment for sewing contractors 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.
In conjunction with today’s release of the results of the 2022 Southern California Garment Survey, the department hosted a listening session in Los Angeles with garment workers and stakeholders, including the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, representatives from state and local attorneys general, and the non-profit Garment Worker Center and Bet Tzedek Legal Clinic.
“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,” Rosalez added. “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.”
Read more about the division’s efforts in the garment industry. The division enforces the law regardless of a worker’s immigration status and can speak confidentially with callers in more than 200 languages. For more information about the FLSA and other laws enforced by the division, contact its toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division.
Download the agency’s new Timesheet App for i-OS and Android devices – also available in Spanish - to ensure hours and pay are accurate.