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Sweatshop Conditions and Low Pay In LA Garment Factories

Nearly two weeks after Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M announced plans to roll out a better compensation package to 68 of its suppliers in China, Cambodia and Bangladesh this year, worker abuse is commonplace in many of the Los Angeles factories that supply Made in U.S.A. clothing companies and employ mostly undocumented Latinos, according to a report published Wednesday by a labor rights group.

The Garment Worker Center (GWC) interviewed 175 of LA’s garment workers between June and August and discovered that some facilities routinely shortchange their employees on wages, do not provide health and safety training and don’t offer access to first aid should an injury occur.

“Most garment workers are operating in working conditions that are far from safe,” the report said. “The machinery and tools that garment workers use require careful handling and if misused, can cause serious injuries. A faulty machine or simple human error could result in a needle flying into a worker’s eye, injured hands or fingers, cuts or burns.”

Roughly 80 percent of those surveyed received no training prior to beginning work, while nearly half had no access to first aid. Almost one in three didn’t have clear access to emergency exits and 22 percent said their workplace was poorly lit, making it difficult to see their surroundings.

Furthermore, workers interviewed said that they were forced to work long hours (48 percent work 10 hours or more per day) to meet production quotas in sweatshop conditions, with 62 percent not receiving overtime because their employers pay per piece sewn in a day instead of an hourly wage.

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For example, two trimmers who recently filed wage claims at the GWC received around $1.90 per hour for their work. By comparison, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and in July, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to increase the minimum hourly wage to $15 by 2020.

“If I work few hours, I don’t have enough to eat. That’s why I push myself to work more than 11 hours per day,” a trimmer named Carmen told the GWC.

Almost a third of garment workers said they weren’t allowed to take rest breaks and roughly 30 percent reported a lack of clean drinking water on-site. Half said their factories have poor ventilation, with nearly 25 percent using some kind of chemical.

Javier, a presser, said, “The employer needs to provide what is necessary so that the worker can work well and without harm.”

Further findings included physical or verbal violence (21 percent) and sexual harassment (6 percent) in the workplace, while nearly 40 percent saw rodents or cockroaches in the factory.

In its damning report, the GWC scolded LA’s garment industry—one of the country’s main manufacturing hubs—for not doing more to protect workers. The labor rights group has demanded that factories end the wage theft caused by the piece rate and rest and meal violations. In addition, big brands and retailers should pay a just price per piece so that fair living wages and good working conditions are possible and AB 633 garment legislation should be extended so they’re also liable for wage and hour violations on the factory floor.

Other requests outlined: factories must improve health and safety standards; promote dignity and respect in the workplace and protect victims of harassment and discrimination; provide access to quality affordable childcare; and establish monitoring committees that are held accountable for workers.

“Garment workers must have a say in their working conditions and wages by having the right to negotiate directly with employers, brands and retailers that profit from their work,” the report stated.