FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Campaign Launch for the Garment Worker Protection Act (SB 62) and New Labor Violations Report
Garment workers and advocates officially launch their campaign to pass the Garment Worker Protection Act (SB 62) in 2021 in a virtual press event with moving testimony from workers and local fashion business owners. They introduced their bill on December 7th, the first day for bill submissions for the 2021 legislative season, eager to continue in their fight to combat rampant wage theft in the state’s garment manufacturing industry. Garment worker and campaign leader, Santa Puac, declares, “I fight for this law for a better salary and to end injustice.”
The bill has three principal co-authors, Senator Maria Elena Durazo and Assembly Members Lorena Gonzalez and Ash Kalra, and is joined by Senator Nancy Skinner and Assembly Members Wendy Carrillo and Reginald Jones-Sawyer. It proposes a sweeping update to California’s existing Garment Worker Protection Act (GWPA). Specifically it will 1) eliminate the piece rate in the garment industry, 2) expand liability for unpaid wages to fashion brands, 3) increase the enforcement authority of the state Bureau of Field Enforcement to implement the
GWPA, and 4) create a rebuttable presumption in favor of worker testimony with respect to wage theft.
Speaking on the importance of SB62 Senator Durazo states, “Hundreds of millions of dollars in wage theft and unsanitary conditions were prevalent before the virus and have been exacerbated during the pandemic, even as highly skilled garment workers are making the protective equipment our state needs, often for as little as $5 an hour. California loses millions in stolen wages every year while the loopholes exploited by bad-actor manufacturers have made the garment industry hostile to ethical companies that are doing the right thing. The Garment Worker Protection Act will safeguard legal wages and dignified working conditions for garment professionals, a level playing field for the thousands of garment manufacturers in our state, and an ethical industry here at home.”
“When clothing manufacturers pay garment workers by the piece, they can get away with paying poverty wages,” said Assemblywoman Gonzalez, principal co-author of SB 62. “Garment workers have waited too long for justice in their workplace — they deserve to be paid at least a minimum wage. We must hold fashion brands and clothing manufacturers responsible for abiding by the law.”
Ethical fashion business companies join the launch with workers, demonstrating the broad support the bill has and California’s growing status as an ethical fashion hub. Maggie Q, actress and founder of Qeep Up Fashion had this to say, “We have a duty as the 5th largest
economy in the world, to protect our garment workers and send a message to other strong economies that we don’t exploit migrant workers because we can. We fight for their rights because we should.”
The policy changes proposed in SB 62 are urgently needed in California’s garment industry. Approximately 85% of workers experience wage theft, including wages as low as $5 per hour – just one third of the prevailing minimum wage in Los Angeles, home to the overwhelming majority of the state’s garment production.
Dana Hadl, Director of the Employment Rights Project at Bet Tzedek Legal Services, says, “We are excited – and honored – to fight alongside our clients, Senator Durazo, Assemblymembers Gonzalez and Kalra, and our committed co-sponsors to put an end to the unlawful and exploitative practices and loopholes which have proliferated in the garment industry. Together we will work to make sure that those who reap the benefits of suppressed wages and sweatshop conditions are held liable for the shameful conditions which they helped to create.”
The California Labor Federation has come out in support of SB 62. “There is never an excuse to deny working people basic rights under the law, but it’s especially important to protect workers now as a pandemic and recession create the perfect storm for widespread exploitation. SB 62 ensures that California’s garment manufacturing workers, who often face horrific abuses, are afforded the same rights to a fair wage and safe working conditions that the rest of us take for granted. We urge the legislature and Gov. Newsom to move quickly to extend these workers the protections they deserve,” states Mitch Steiger, Legislative Advocate for the Federation.
The labor abuses in the garment industry have been gravely exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. “In the midst of a pandemic, when California is asking the federal government to find its conscience so people can meet their basic needs, it makes no sense that the state continues to ignore rampant wage theft in the garment industry here,” said Courtney McKinney, Communications Director for Western Center on Law & Poverty. “California’s commitment to racial and economic justice is only rhetoric until and unless these workers, many of whom are essential, disproportionately women of color, and who continue to make face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19, are protected from exploitative and unethical labor practices by employers. It is unacceptable, and needs to be corrected immediately.”
Today’s event launches the second year of this policy campaign. GWPA garnered tremendous community and legislative support in 2020, previously under bill number SB 1399, including a favorable Senate floor vote and over 100 community, labor, and business supporters. Legislative leaders did not bring it to a final vote in the California Assembly, however, due to time constraints. Workers immediately put plans in motion to reintroduce the bill for the 2021 legislative session.
Underscoring her commitment to fighting for SB 62, Santa Puac states, “With this law I will have a salary that I have never had for 20 years and I would not have to worry about wage theft. Every garment worker is an expert in her or his profession, and it may seem simple, but each of us has certain skills that must be respected as in all other professions. We want to be respected equally.”
The Garment Worker Center (GWC) simultaneously released a new report titled, “Labor Violations in the Los Angeles Garment Industry,” highlighting the extent of wage theft in the industry. The report features data from surveys of garment workers conducted in April and August of this year, as well as worker wage claims filed with the State Labor Commissioner’s office between 2014-2020. Most notably, the report reveals that out of 142 wage theft claims filed the average hourly wage for workers in the industry is $5.85 per hour. The report explains, “Some low-wage workers with wage theft claims filed as recently as 2019 are earning as little as $2.68 an hour through the piece rate system of pay.”
Brands such as Fashion Nova, Forever 21, Windsor, Charlotte Russe, Harley Davidson, Urban Outfitters, and Lulu’s are listed as “top violators” as they are the most commonly seen brands in the studied wage claims.
Marissa Nuncio, (213) 453-9907, mnuncio[at]garmentworkercenter.org
Dana Hadl, (323) 648-4705, dhadl[at]bettzedek.org