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U.S. Labor Dept. Reports Wage and Overtime Violations in California’s Garment Industry

Due to widespread labor violations in the Southern California garment industry, the U.S. Labor Department reported that garment workers are being robbed of millions of dollars per year in unpaid wages.

The department’s Wage and Hour Division conducted 221 investigations of employers in the garment industry in 2014—most in the Los Angeles area—and found roughly $3 million in unpaid wages for 1,549 workers. According to the division, that amounted to an average of $1,900 per worker, or five times the amount a typical sewing machine operator earns in a week.

Minimum wages and overtime violations have been historically high in the garment industry, the division noted. Investigations revealed such violations in 89 percent of more than 1,600 cases in the Southern California area since 2009.

Among the cases was an investigation of Roger Garments in Montebello, Calif., which yielded more than $93,000 in overtime and minimum wage back wages paid to 44 employees. An investigation of Los Angeles-based garment contractor EVE LA Inc., revealed that 37 workers were owed nearly $87,000 in unpaid minimum wage and overtime compensation. More than $28,000 in wages was recovered for 13 Lucky Stars employees, a garment contractor that sells to Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Kohl’s.

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. 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.”

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Weil also said the division is advancing its enforcement efforts, by participating in directed investigations and identifying supply chains to help fight what he called a “race-to-the-bottom culture.” Weil added, “We will uphold the American promise of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

Wage and Hour Division’s Western Region administrator Ruben Rosalez, said, “We are committed to strong enforcement and providing educational workshops for employers, yet we continue to find significant problems in this industry. We are using a variety of strategies to better protect workers and level the playing field for law-abiding businesses.”

According to Rosalez, strategies include expanding the division’s surveillance of facilities and distributing more multilingual investigators. He also said the agency is working with the department’s Office of the Solicitor to obtain liquidated damages as a remedy for workers. The division may also assess civil money penalties when employers are found to be repeat or willful offenders.