Why We Support the Garment Worker Protection Act
According to the UCLA Labor Center, there are over 46,000 garment workers in the Los Angeles area. Known as the epicenter of apparel manufacturing in the United States, Los Angeles apparel manufacturing brings in $4.7 billion annually. Sounds like business is booming, right? It is, but garment workers are not benefitting. They are often underpaid and sometimes unpaid when factories cut and run (essentially closing down instead of paying workers). They’re working long hours, in unsafe conditions, for very little pay. It’s time to pass legislation to protect workers and hold brands accountable for wage losses.
SB62 does just that. Sponsored by the Garment Worker Center and co-authored by Senator Maria Elena Durazo, the Garment Worker Protection Act (SB62), is working its way through the California legislature. When approved by the state assembly, it will head to Governor Newsom’s desk for a signature. The first of its kind in decades, this legislation ensures that government agencies will have the tools to enforce labor violations and ensure garment workers receive fair pay. It also holds the entire supply chain accountable for wage violations. For a quick summary of SB62, head over to this Fashion Revolution article.
Read the text of the bill here.
The Piece Rate System is Unfair
“Garment workers in Los Angeles regularly work more than 12 hours per day and 60-70 hours per week while receiving an average of $5-6 per hour (as little as $3-4 per hour) — far below California’s $13-14/hr minimum wage and Los Angeles’ $15/hr minimum wage.”
-UCLA Labor Center
Although piece work sounds like a decent deal – work hard and get paid better, the piece-rate system undercuts workers’ hourly pay while encouraging a disproportionate amount of production. Some factories pay workers piece rates up until minimum wage rather than using it as an incentive or bonus on top of an hourly rate.
A Garment Worker Center study found that in any given workweek:
- 85% of garment workers are paid by piece rate (Between $.02 and $.06 per piece) rather than minimum wage
- 62% of garment workers with wage and hour violation cases earned their wages through the piece-rate system
- Workers paid at the piece rate receive on average $297.83 for a workweek of almost 60 hours
SB62 would eliminate the piece-rate pay system and give government entities more tools to enforce wage violations
“If you are paid piece by piece, you make up to $200 a week. You make almost nothing. What we want is for the law to change. At least, for them to pay us an hourly wage. We want to change the garment laws, and we want your support so that we are paid by the hour. We also want the brands to be held accountable for this wage theft. Please approve SB62. We are doing critical work for society.”
-Virgilda, Garment Worker Center Leader, 19 years of experience working in LA’s garment industry
The Entire Supply Chain Should Be Accountable for Workers’ Pay
When we think of wage violation and labor accountability, we usually think of manufacturers and the factories themselves as the guilty parties. In reality, the entire supply chain should meet fair labor standards and require that the tools are in place to enforce them. Manufacturers are just one small part of the supply chain.
All parts of the supply chain should be accountable for safe working conditions and fair pay
This doesn’t mean that one day you will buy a t-shirt and get a call for a labor violation that you had nothing to do with. It means that if a factory shuts down or workers aren’t paid, companies that are contracting to have those garments made will have more liability for lost wages. In essence, the entire supply chain is responsible to make sure workers are compensated for their labor. Brands won’t be able to profit off of workers’ losses without some accountability.
Garment Workers Are Essential
We all have one thing in common – clothes! And when the pandemic hit in 2020, we added an extra layer of protection to our wardrobe – masks! Garment workers produced these masks when most of us were hunkered down in our homes, working remotely and quarantining.
It was risky and often unsafe. In the rush to protect the masses with masks, 6 workers died when a COVID outbreak occurred at one Los Angeles factory. This wasn’t an isolated incident. Many factories had to shut down due to COVID outbreaks.
At the minimum, workers should be able to have safe working conditions and fair pay for their labor.
A Shift to Ethical Manufacturing is Possible
Once passed and enacted SB62 will set a path forward to enforce labor violations and open up the doors to create a more just, ethical manufacturing community in Los Angeles. The infrastructure, workforce, and cut and sew expertise are all in place. A transformational shift to living wage or worker cooperative models is possible. This is a chance to improve workers’ lives and take the opportunity to create something sustainable – for the people and the planet. A shift to ethical production would improve workers’ lives and improve small communities in LA and beyond.
How to Support SB62
It’s time to mobilize for the final push! Sign the petition, offer a business endorsement, contact your local legislators, and spread the word about SB62 on your social media platforms.
This LA Times article highlights workers’ daily lives and how companies get away with underpaying them.
Follow the @garmentworkercenter for news and events