Workers face millions in unpaid wages in Southern California garment industry
US Labor Department finds workers owed more than $3M in most recent year alone
LOS ANGELES Widespread labor violations by employers in the Southern California garment industry are costing workers millions of dollars a year in unpaid wages, according to the U.S. Labor Department. During fiscal year 2014, the department's Wage and Hour Division conducted 221 investigations of employers in this industry, almost all in and around Los Angeles, and found $3,004,085 in unpaid wages for 1,549 workers. The division said that amounted to an average of $1,900 per worker, which is five times the amount a typical sewing machine operator earns in a week.
"Fierce competition in the garment industry leads many contract shops to lower the cost of their services, frequently at the expense of workers' wages," said Dr. David Weil, administrator for the Wage and Hour Division. "When workers don't receive the wages to which they are legally entitled, they can't afford the basics like food, rent and child care."
Weil said the division is engaging in strategic enforcement efforts, such as directed investigations and identifying supply chains to combat what he calls a "race-to-the-bottom culture," which imposes an unnecessary hardship on people who are trying to support themselves and their families. "We will uphold the American promise of a fair day's pay for a fair day's work," he said.
According to the division, minimum wage and overtime violations have historically been high in the garment industry. Investigators have found violations in 89 percent of more than 1,600 cases in Southern California since 2009, leading to more than $15 million in recovered back wages for nearly 12,000 workers. The apparel industry typically employs large populations of immigrants with limited English language proficiency who are unaware of their rights or are reluctant to speak up. This makes them particularly vulnerable to labor violations.
"We are committed to strong enforcement and providing educational workshops for employers, yet we continue to find significant problems in this industry," said Ruben Rosalez, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division's Western Region. "We are using a variety of strategies to better protect workers and level the playing field for law-abiding businesses."
According to Rosalez, the division has stepped up surveillance of establishments and deployed more multilingual investigators in the last several years. He also said that the agency is working with the department's Office of the Solicitor to obtain liquidated damages as a remedy for workers. The division may also assess civil money penalties when employers are found to be repeat or willful offenders. And, Rosalez said, the agency is addressing supply chains by using agreements to ensure compliance with minimum wage and overtime rules by having manufacturers monitor their contractors.
Recent Wage and Hour Division cases:
- An investigation of Roger Garments in Montebello yielded more than $93,000 in overtime and minimum wage back wages paid to 44 workers. Roger Garments was contracted by Santa Ana-based Lunar Mode, an apparel manufacturer, for nearly half of its goods. Wage and Hour investigators also cited Lunar Mode for nearly $7,000 in back wages. Products in this case were sold to Macy's and other women's fashion retailers.
- During an investigation of Los Angeles-based garment contractor EVE LA Inc., investigators determined that 37 employees were due nearly $87,000 in unpaid minimum wage and overtime compensation. Investigators found that apparel workers utilized as checkers, trimmers and pressers were paid flat weekly salaries of $270 for an average of 50 hours a week. They were producing women's clothing for manufacturers Dan Bee Inc. and Lovely Day Fashion. Dan Bee sells to retailers Must Have and Potter's Pot. And Lovely Day Fashion sells apparel through online retailer Nasty Gal.
- More than $28,000 in minimum wage and overtime back wages were recovered for 13 employees at Lucky Stars, a garment contractor in South El Monte. Lucky Stars sold product to retailers, such as Macy's, JC Penney and Kohl's.
The Fair Labor Standards Act, which the Wage and Hour Division enforces, requires that covered garment and other workers be paid at least the national minimum wage of $7.25 for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers also must maintain accurate time and payroll records. The division has provided resources on FLSA compliance in the garment industry at http://www.dol.gov/whd/garment/.
For more information about federal wage laws, or to file a complaint, call the Wage and Hour Division's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or its Los Angeles District Office at 213-894-6375. Information also is available at http://www.dol.gov/whd/.
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