California Garment Workers Owed More Than $3 Million in Unpaid Wages
The U.S. Department of Labor determined that Southern California garment employers owed its factory employees at least $3 million in fiscal year 2014, which ended Sept. 30.
These labor violations are costing millions a year, the department concluded after its Wage and Hour Division conducted 221 investigations of industry employers, with most located in or around Los Angeles. Of the 1,549 workers found to be underpaid, the department determined there was $3,004,085 owed in back wages—or 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."
The investigation at Roger Garments, Montebello, Calif., which sells products to women's fashion retailers, like Macy's, resulted in $93,000 in overtime and minimum back wages paid to 44 workers. Lunar Mode, a Santa Ana, Calif. apparel manufacturer that contracts Roger Garments, also was cited for $7,000 in back wages.
After looking at Los Angeles-based garment contractor EVE LA Inc., the department determined 37 employees were entitled to almost $87,000 in unpaid minimum wage and overtime compensations. Apparel workers, utilized as checkers, trimmers and pressers for Dan Bee Inc. and Lovely Day Fashion apparel, were paid flat weekly salaries of $270 while averaging 50-hour work weeks. Those employees were entitled to at least $440 a week based on California's $8 an hour minimum wage and the average 50-hour workweek, and after the state's minimum wage increased to $9 an hour in July, that average weekly income should have jumped to a minimum of $495 based on the same numbers.
Another $28,000 in back pay for minimum wage and overtime wages were recovered for 13 employees at Lucky Stars, a South El Monte, Calif. garment contractor that sold to retailers, such as JC Penney, Kohl's and Macy's.
These violations in the garment industry have been historically high with more than $2 million typically affecting about 2,000 workers since fiscal year 2010, according to the department. Since 2009, 89 percent of 1,600 Southern California cases have lead to more than $15 million in back wages owed to about 12,000 workers—many of whom are immigrants with limited English, making them particularly vulnerable to labor violations as they often are unaware of their rights or are reluctant to speak up.
As a result, the Wage and Hour Division has increased surveillance and employed more multilingual investigators. Repeat offenders may face civil monetary penalties. The agency has helped secure the supply chain via wage compliance contracts with manufacturers that encourage them to monitor their contractors.
"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."