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Unpaid wages in Southern California garment industry: DoL
11
Nov '14
The United States Department of Labour (DoL) has found widespread violations by employers in paying wages to workers in the Southern California garment industry.
 
In fiscal year 2014, DoL’s Wage and Hour Division conducted 221 investigations of employers in the garment industry, almost all in and around Los Angeles, and found $3,004,085 in unpaid wages for 1,549 workers. The average unpaid wage worked out to $1,900 per worker, which is five times the amount a typical sewing machine operator earns in a week, the Division said.
 
Analyzing the situation, Dr. David Weil, administrator for the Wage and Hour Division, said, “Fierce competition in the garment industry leads many contract shops to lower the cost of their services, frequently at the expense of workers’ wages.” He added, “When workers don’t receive the wages to which they are legally entitled, they can’t afford the basics like food, rent and child care.”
 
The Division is engaging in strategic enforcement efforts, such as directed investigations and identifying supply chains to combat what Weil calls a “race-to-the-bottom culture”, which imposes an unnecessary hardship on people who are trying to support themselves and their families. “We will uphold the American promise of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” Weil said.
 
Since 2009, investigators have found wage violations in 89 percent of more than 1,600 cases in Southern California, which led to recovery of more than $15 million in back wages for nearly 12,000 workers, according to the Division.
 
Historically, the minimum wage and overtime violations have been high in the garment industry. It is because this industry typically employs large populations of immigrants with limited English language proficiency who are unaware of their rights or are reluctant to speak up, which makes them particularly vulnerable to labor violations.
 
Mentioning the steps being taken by the Division to address the problem, Ruben Rosalez, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division’s Western Region, said, “We are using a variety of strategies to better protect workers and level the playing field for law-abiding businesses.”
 
The Division has stepped up surveillance of establishments and deployed more multilingual investigators in the last several years. Further the agency is working with the DoL’s Office of the Solicitor to obtain liquidated damages as a remedy for workers, according to Rosalez.
 
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which the Wage and Hour Division enforces, requires that covered garment and other workers be paid at least the national minimum wage of US$ 7.25 for all hours worked, plus time and one-half their regular rates for hours worked beyond 40 per week. Employers also must maintain accurate time and payroll records, as per the FLSA. (RKS)
 

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