In Los Angeles County, an estimated 45,000 garment workers regularly work more than 12 hours a day, 60 to 70 hours per week, while earning on average $5.15 an hour, which is well below the County’s current minimum hourly wage of $14.25. In this COVID-19 crisis, many garment workers are making personal protective gear for healthcare workers while earning sub-minimum, by-the-piece wages in unsafe work environments. To ensure garment workers are justly paid and their rights protected, the Board of Supervisors today approved a motion authored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, and co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, directing the County’s Sacramento advocates to support State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo’s SB 1399, which would establish an hourly wage in the garment industry and strengthen workers’ rights.

“It is unacceptable that many garment workers are making face masks and other protective gear for pennies on the hour while being forced to work in cramped areas that undermine physical distancing, and that lack protocols to regularly sanitize their workstations,” said Supervisor Solis. “LA County stands in solidarity with these essential workers by supporting SB 1399, which will strengthen workers’ protections for garment workers. Many are hardworking immigrant women who are often exploited by unscrupulous employers, and I thank State Sen. Durazo for authoring this critical bill that gives voice to vulnerable garment workers.”

“Piece rate pay has meant employers have been able to pay garment workers below the minimum hourly wage for years,” said Supervisor Hahn. “This legislation is vital to not only guaranteeing these workers get the pay they are owed, but that their rights as workers are protected.”

In 1999, AB 633 was enacted to prevent wage theft in the garment industry. However, some retailers and manufacturers have spent the last 20 years circumventing AB 633 to avoid liability,  preventing tens of thousands of garment workers in LA County from recovering stolen wages.

Retailers avoid liability by creating layers of subcontracting, allowing them to avoid being classified as garment manufacturers, as defined in AB 633, and thus evade liability for wage violations. Further, a 2016 U.S. Department of Labor survey found that 85 percent of 77 randomly selected garment contractors in Southern California were in violation of wage laws.

“It is time that we demand better working conditions for women and just hourly pay for garment workers, who when paid by the piece, earn on average $5.15 per hour. Thank you, Supervisor Hilda Solis and the Board of Supervisors for supporting the growing movement for SB 1399, the Garment Worker Protection Act of 2020,” said State Sen. María Elena Durazo, author of the State Senate bill. “This year marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, formally recognizing that women, like men, deserve all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Yet still today, women of color continue to be overrepresented in the garment manufacturing industry, an ‘underground economy’ that is plagued by wage theft and egregious health and safety violations.”

As garment workers are producing protective gear in this pandemic, many are facing the same sub-minimum-wage pay and poor working conditions that have been standard in the industry for years.

“Garment workers earn pennies on a piece as their salary, often making as low as 3 cents an operation, and this is unacceptable. No one earning these low wages can cover basic needs,” said Marissa Nuncio, director of the L.A. Garment Worker Center. “This is why garment workers have brought forward SB 1399— to demand that they get a chance to earn at least a minimum wage and that all fashion brands and garment manufacturers in the production chain are held responsible for garment workers’ wages. We’re grateful for Supervisor Solis’ support in bringing forward this motion to support our bill. Los Angeles is the center of California’s garment production industry, and local support is vital to curbing rampant labor abuses in this industry.”

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Contact: Rosa Maria Santana, Deputy Director of Communications, rsantana@bos.lacounty.gov