Apparel Manufacturing Wage Reform Bill's Failure Is a Win for Fast Fashion and a Big Loss for Garment Workers
A bill that would have changed the way apparel manufacturers pay their workers in California came up short before it could even get to a vote before the state legislature’s midnight deadline.
Introduced by Calif. State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, the bill would have required apparel manufacturing operations to pay workers hourly wages, only allowing per-piece pay as additional incentives. It also would have made brands and retailers that use those factories liable for any wage theft.
Apparel manufacturing and the problems that come with it has been a visible issue in California recently, as Los Angeles Apparel fought with the city government after it came to light that it wasn’t properly implementing protection measures against COVID-19 transmission, and company founder Dov Charney was accused of other unsavory business practices.
“I’m disheartened that SB1399 did not prevail in the final hours of the legislative session,” Sen. Durazo told the LA Times. “2020 has not been the best year. As we regroup to plan for the upcoming legislative session, our commitment to garment workers will continue to be a priority, because every day wage theft continues to cheat workers out of their pay. And while workers continue to be paid by the piece, they continue to earn on average five dollars an hour.”
The bill was reportedly a means of updating a reform bill passed in 1999, after authorities discovered 72 illegal Thai immigrants were “virtually enslaved in an El Monte sweatshop.” The 1999 legislation made it so manufacturers were on the hook for wage violations by contractors who produce the products, but the increased use of subcontractors has made it harder to enforce. The new proposed legislation would have ensured that brands and retailers would still be liable even if workers were “shortchanged” by subcontractors.
#EndOfSession #SB1399 #GarmentWorkers failed on Asm Floor on 3rd Reading. Tomorrow, would have been the same for 45,000 workers: 15 hr work day; sweatshop conditions; subminimum wages; high risk of #COVID19 exposure while making PPE for others... but they would have felt heard. https://t.co/bmXJitS9Yn
— Jessica Bartholow (she/her) (@Jess_Bartholow) September 1, 2020
If passed, it would have created a category of companies called “brand guarantors,” that would have been liable for any wage theft occurring in the production process. This company category would include fashion brands as well as retailers that contract to have clothing made for them as private label items.
Supporters of the bill also want to eliminate the practice of selling by product, as it creates the opportunity for wage theft. The logic of the bill is that if the stores and brands that use these factories are responsible for lost wages or wage theft, it would encourage them to pay more to have their products manufactured in heavily monitored and ethically regulated environments.
Big-name retailers like Fashion Nova supported the bill, which surprised some people as Fashion Nova was alleged to use low-cost labor via illegal immigrant workers. However, it faced opposition from trade associations, who reportedly said it would “harm Los Angeles’ already-diminished fashion industry.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Durazo said that she is unsure whether she’ll re-introduce the bill next year or try to make the changes administratively.