California Garment Industry Wage Theft Rampant, Say Officials

When we see a product that says, “Made in the USA,” we assume that means the workers who brought that product into being were treated and paid fairly. But unfortunately, as a recent study by the U.S. Department of Labor reveals, that is not necessarily true – especially if the product we’re talking about is clothing made in L.A. sewing

The report notes that there are more than 40,000 people – mostly immigrant women – who work in clothing factors to the east and south of downtown Los Angeles. The U.S. Labor Department’s report indicates that many of those workers are paid far less than what they are legally entitled to receive. The government agency says long hours by workers typically don’t amount to overtime, as required by federal law for any worker who toils more than 40 hours weekly. Additionally, some worker are paid by the piece, which means they sometimes earn far less than even minimum wage. In some cases, factors, including TJ Maxx, Forever 21 and Ross, are paying worker as little as $3 an hour for their work.

The report indicated that 85 percent of the garment industry companies studied were in violation of federal record keeping and minimum wage laws. There were more than 660 investigations that involved some 5,160 workers over the course of three years. That amounted to an estimated $8.1 million in stolen wages.

L.A. has one of the highest concentrations of garment industry workers in the U.S. There are approximately 2,000 manufacturers in the L.A. region. Many of these workers are at their machines between 10 and 12 hours daily. Much of that work involves sewing, cutting and dying clothing ranging from runway knock-offs to designer jeans.

So even though the state of California has some of the best laws in place to protect workers’ rights, including high standards for minimum wage, there are tens of thousands of workers in Los Angeles alone who are being cheated by these companies.

In total, there were 77 factories in Southern California investigated by the Labor Department. There were more than a dozen clothing brands identified, but those made by TJ Maxx, Ross and Forever 21 seemed to have more issues than most.

Representatives for the brands say they can’t be responsible for the workplace conditions of suppliers. However, evidence was presented that these companies were made aware of the alleged violations in numerous complaints. These include workers taking home less than $5 hourly. Employment lawyers who provide legal help for these devalued workers have sought the help of these name brand companies in fighting these wage theft violations. Instead, they have chosen time and again to fight these allegations in court.

When the Department of Labor report came out, the companies released statements indicating that they take these kinds of violations very seriously. However, they declined to condemn their contractors. They didn’t vow to change their business practices. Instead, fighting these cases is seen as simply the cost of doing business.

For the workers, though, it can be a difficult process. They face threats of termination, deportation and even violence.

By failing to alter their practices, these companies are essentially saying that it’s more important to them to sell t-shirts at $5 a pop than to pay their workers the minimum wage.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

In L.A.’s garment industry, ‘Made in the USA’ can mean being paid $3 an hour, Dec. 14, 2016, By Jessie Kornberg, The L.A. Times

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Wage-Fixing Lawsuit to Cost DreamWorks $50M, Dec. 5, 2016, Wage and Hour Theft Lawsuit