Southern California Garment Workers Owed Millions In Unpaid Wages

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Widespread labor violations by Southern California apparel manufacturing industry employers costs garment workers millions of dollars a year in unpaid wages, the U.S. Labor Department reports.

Garment WorkerWage and Hour Division of the U.S. Labor Department conducted 221 investigations this year of garment industry employers, mostly in and around Los Angeles.

Investigators found more than $3 million in unpaid wages owed to 1,549 garment workers, an average of $1,900 per worker or five times more than a sewing machine operator’s typical weekly earnings.

“Fierce competition in the garment industry leads many contract shops to lower the cost of their services, frequently at the expense of workers’ wages,” said David Weil, Wage and Hour Division administrator. “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.”

Minimum wage and overtime violations are rampant in the garment industry.

Investigators found violations in 89% of more than 1,600 cases in Southern California since 2009. More than $15 million in back wages for was recovered for nearly 12,000 garment workers.

Garment Workers Often Immigrants

The apparel industry typically employs large populations of immigrants with limited English language proficiency who are unaware of their rights or are reluctant to speak up. This makes them particularly vulnerable to labor violations.

“We will uphold the American promise of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” Weil said.

Weil said the division is engaging in strategic enforcement efforts to combat what he calls a “race-to-the-bottom culture” creating unnecessary hardship on people who are trying to support themselves and their families.

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

The Wage and Hour Division has stepped up surveillance and deployed more multilingual investigators during the last several years. The agency is working 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.

Rosalez said the agency is addressing supply chains using agreements ensuring compliance with minimum wage and overtime rules by having manufacturers monitor their contractors.

Recent Wage and Hour Division cases:
An investigation of Roger Garments in Montebello, Calif., yielded more than $93,000 in overtime and minimum wage back wages for 44 workers.

Roger Garments was contracted by Santa Ana, Calif.-based apparel manufacturer Lunar Mode, for nearly half of its goods. Wage and Hour investigators cited Lunar Mode for nearly $7,000 in back wages. Products involved were sold at Macy’s and other women’s fashion retailers.

An investigation of Los Angeles-based garment contractor EVE LA Inc., found 37 employees were due nearly $87,000 in unpaid minimum wage and overtime pay.

Investigators found that apparel workers utilized as checkers, trimmers and pressers were paid flat weekly salaries of $270 for an average of 50 hours a week. They were producing women’s clothing for manufacturers Dan Bee Inc. and Lovely Day Fashion.

Dan Bee sells to retailers Must Have and Potter’s Pot. Lovely Day Fashion sells apparel through online retailer Nasty Gal.

More than $28,000 in minimum wage and overtime back wages were recovered for 13 employees at Lucky Stars, a garment contractor in South El Monte, Calif. Lucky Stars sold product to retailers such as Macy’s, JC Penney and Kohl’s.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, which the Wage and Hour Division enforces, requires that covered garment and other workers be paid at least the national minimum wage of $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.

The division has provided resources on FLSA compliance in the garment industry at

For more information about federal wage laws, or to file a complaint, call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or its Los Angeles District Office at 213-894-6375. Information also is available at

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