Los Angeles County supervisors threw their support Tuesday behind a state bill aimed at setting an hourly wage for garment workers, who are currently paid by the pieces they saw.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn co-authored the motion to back Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, in her efforts to pass SB 1399 to 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,” Solis said.
An estimated 45,000 garment workers regularly work more than 12 hours a day, 60-70 hours weekly for an average hourly wage of $5.15, according to Solis. Paying workers by the pieces they sew allows employers to skirt minimum wage regulations, including one set by Los Angeles County at $14.25.
AB 633, enacted in 1999, requires garment manufacturers to register with the state and was designed to prevent wage theft, but retailers and manufacturers have avoided liability by subcontracting out work. A 2016 survey by the U.S. Department of Labor survey that 85% of 77 randomly selected garment contractors in Southern California were in violation of wage laws.
Durazo’s bill aims to eliminate the piece-rate system and expand liability to others in the chain of production.
” 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,” Durazo said in a statement.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Fashion brands canceled contracts with local manufacturers after local stay-at-home orders were instituted. Workers, many of whom lack legal status and are ineligible for unemployment benefits or federal stimulus aid, turned to apparel factories that are violating health regulations, according to the text of the bill.
A workers’ right organization praised the board’s move.
“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.”
The bill was set to be heard Tuesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.