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Enacted in 1999, AB 633 requires garment manufacturers to register with the state, and was originally designed to prevent wage theft. However, in reality, retailers and manufacturers have actually avoided liability by subcontracting out work.
On June 9, Los Angeles County supervisors backed SB 1399, a state bill aimed to correct this by setting an hourly wage for garment workers, who are currently paid by the pieces they saw.
According to the Garment Worker Center, Los Angeles has the highest concentration of garment workers in the country. It is estimated that there are 45,000 garment workers in the city that work more than 12 hours a day, 60-70 hours a week. To add insult to injury, their average hourly wage currently is $5.15 — well below minimum wage, which in Los Angeles County is $15. Employers get around regulations by paying their subcontractors per piece sewn, which is estimated to be only $150 a week.
As aforementioned, AB 633 was enacted to prevent wage theft in the garment industry. However, some retailers and manufacturers have spent the last 20 years circumventing it to avoid liability, preventing tens of thousands of garment workers in LA County from recovering stolen wages.
Garment manufacturers in California have been able to avoid legal infractions by layering contracts between them and employees. They create layers of subcontracting, which allows them to avoid being classified as garment manufacturers, as defined in AB 633, and thus evade liability for wage violations.Doing this ultimately created hazardous and sweatshop labored environments, in which the employees hired are subjected to unlivable wages and unworkable conditions.
Co-author of the motion to back the bill, supervisor Hilda Solis said: “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.”
Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles, authored the bill, which aims to eliminate the aforementioned piece-rate system and expand liability to others in the chain of production.
If ratified, SB 1399 will also close the AB 633 loophole in order to prevent retailers from escaping liability for wage and labor violations that occur within their supply chains.
Unsurprisingly, the bill is currently receiving pushback from the garment manufacturing industry, such as the California Fashion Association, a trade group that counts companies like Dov Charney’s Los Angeles Apparel, Alibaba, and Topson Downs as members, along with law firms known for representing companies like Fashion Nova and Forever 21.
The director of the L.A. Garment Worker Center, Marissa Nuncio, said: “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.”
The bill was approved on June 26, but still needs to go through the Assembly process and then go to Governor Gavin Newsom for a signature.