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PRESS RELEASE: CA Garment Workers Continue Fight Against Wage Theft


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.

Press Contact:
Marissa Nuncio, (213) 453-9907, mnuncio[at]
Dana Hadl, (323) 648-4705, dhadl[at]



Western Center’s 2020 Legislative Roundup

2020 has been an unusual year, and the California legislative session was no exception — everyone from legislators to advocates had to adjust to the year’s challenges. Western Center started the year with 38 bills, but due to COVID-19, the Legislature significantly narrowed the number of bills. Even so, our advocates worked tirelessly to make sure people with low incomes are protected in California law, both during the pandemic and after it’s over. Here is a roundup of our sponsored and co-sponsored bills – those that passed, and some we will bring back next year.

Bills signed


  • SB 144 (Mitchell)/AB 1869 (Budget Committee) to repeal state law authorizing specified criminal justice fees. The bill was parked and we moved the language into a trailer bill which repealed 23 of the criminal justice fees and expunged an estimated $16 Billion in outstanding debt associated with these fees. We achieved this historic, first in the country victory in coordination with the Debt Free Justice Coalition.
  • SB 1290 (Durazo and Mitchell) to require counties to stop collecting juvenile fees assessed before 2018. Our sponsored bill SB 190 stopped new debt from accumulating after that date, but did not eliminate existing debt. We are now the first state in the country to completely eliminate juvenile fees, which is an important step in state disinvestment in the carceral system.
  • SB 1409 (Caballero) requires the Franchise Tax Board to analyze and develop a plan to implement a “no return” tax filing pilot program to increase the number of claims of the CalEITC (California Earned Income Tax Credit).
  • SB 1065 (Hertzberg) to make specified changes to the CalWORKs Homeless Assistance Program. This bill is a favorite of public benefit legal services programs, and bookends about four years’ worth of legislation. Currently, domestic violence impacted CalWORKs recipients have 16 days of a hotel voucher and another 16 days if an application is still pending. SB 1065 extends the 32 days to everyone regardless of whether or not their application was approved. It also allows for the repeal of an asset test of $100 on the program; allows rental assistance to cover first, last, and deposit (rather than just first and deposit); allows a sworn statement by family to verify that a family is homeless rather than requiring county verification; and eliminates responsibility of the client to return to the county every four days to verify homelessness. It also improves disaster provisions by making eligibility conditioned upon a family becoming homeless as a direct and primary result of a state or federal declared disaster (including pandemic).
  • AB 3073 (Wicks) to require the Department of Social Services to issue guidance on the allowable practices to maximize CalFresh eligibility for people leaving jail or prison. Click here for a copy of a report we published on this topic.
  • AB 2325 (Carrillo) would restore Section 4007.5 of the Family Code with a 3 year sunset. This law was allowed to sunset last year, requiring child support order suspensions to be process manually for people who are incarcerated over 90 days, rather than have them automatically suspended. We worked in coalition on this bill with Truth and Justice in Child Support.

*Budget Bills we supported in coalition:

  • Ending exclusion of ITIN tax filers in CalEITC.
  • Institute Homestead Act protections against home loss during bankruptcy, and to establish a new state entity charged with licensing debt collectors and protecting consumers from abusive and illegal debt collection practices.
  • Restored CalWORKs assistance to the full 60 months permitted under federal law beginning in 2022.
  • Expanded the amount of child support payments CalWORKs families can keep from $50 a month to $100 a month for one child, and up to $200 for two or more children.


  • AB 2520 (Chiu) will increase access to public benefit programs by requiring doctors to complete forms and make it easier to obtain medical records for people in need of benefits programs.
  • AB 2276 (Reyes) would implement the California Auditor’s recommendations to increase blood lead screenings of children on Medi-Cal, as already mandated, and would require the Department of Public Health to update risk factors for evaluating risk of lead poisoning.


  • AB 3088 (Chiu) – AB 1482 Clean-Up: cleans up a number of confusing provisions in last year’s AB 1482, which limited rent increases and required just cause for evictions for tenants in multifamily properties over 15 years old. The bill was also amended during the last week of the legislative session to include a negotiated compromise around protecting tenants from eviction due to COVID through January 2021. That portion of the bill did not have sponsors.

A few bills that didn’t pass this year, but will be back in 2021

  • SB 1399 (Durazo) to address wage theft in California’s garment industry. It failed to make it out of the Legislature this year, in spite of a remarkable grassroots efforts by workers and advocates, and despite the fact that many of the workers experiencing wage theft are the same essential workers who have been sewing masks during the pandemic. Our coalition, led by LA’s Garment Worker Center, will bring the bill back next year.
  • AB 683 (Carrillo) to fix Medi-Cal’s restrictive asset test, which only applies to elders and people with disabilities, was held in committee despite broad community support. The current extremely low limit on allowable assets forces many of the same people most susceptible to COVID-19 to choose between health care and saving for an emergency. We will keep fighting to change that next year.
  • AB 826 (Santiago) would have provided emergency food assistance for Californians who are underserved by other food assistance programs. It was vetoed by the Governor on September 29th. Coverage of the veto can be found in CalMatters, Los Angeles Times, and Associated Press.



STATEMENT: California Garment Workers’ May Day Statement – Protection, Income, Accountability

The Garment Worker Center released the following May Day statement, in coalition with Western Center, Bet Tzedek, and the California Labor Federation. These May Day demands are essential for protecting and supporting workers. Western Center’s co-sponsored bill, SB 1399 (Durazo & Gonzalez), is intended to continue that charge as well. SB 1399 would expand wage theft liability in the garment manufacturing industry so retailers can’t use layers of contracting to avoid legal responsibility.


California Garment Workers: May Day Statement

May 1, 2020

International Workers’ Day, or May Day, is always a significant day for garment workers. For nearly two decades, organized garment workers and allies have gathered in Los Angeles and marched with thousands of fellow workers from a broad array of industries. We unfurl banners and wave picket signs lifting up worker demands for transformative change, dignity, and respect. This year, we cannot march together as we shelter at home from the coronavirus. But workers’ voices and calls to action are needed now more than ever.

Garment workers around the world, and here in LA, have been deeply impacted by the pandemic. As non-essential businesses are closed, the majority of the workforce is left without employment and without any certainty about when jobs will return. Fashion brands have pulled their orders, many without paying for production already in progress or even completed, leaving workers down the supply chain without their final wages. Corporations that are far better positioned to weather the financial impact of these times have nonetheless washed their hands of accountability for the rights and well-being of the workers who produce their products.

The factories that remain open have switched over to PPE production, making face masks and other medical apparel. Workers are reporting minimal protections for their health.  They describe receiving face masks only every 2-3 days, cramped conditions that undermine social distancing, no routine sanitizing of workstations, and a lack of handwashing stations. Thus, as they labor to create critically needed equipment to protect the public, they remain unprotected themselves. Workers tell us, however, that when the choice is between no income for their food and shelter and an unsafe workplace, they must choose to place themselves at risk.

These conditions are not new or Covid-specific. Rather, they are business as usual. Garment workers typically earn an average of $6.00 per hour, primarily through the use of a piece rate system. And though studies show that well-known fashion brands create poverty wages by paying too little for their orders, they consistently evade legal responsibility. Garment factories have always been unsafe, dirty, and cramped workplaces where a workers’ body and health were disregarded.

Yet, in the face of these realities, garment workers demonstrate strength and resilience. They organize and demand their rights be upheld. This year, they brought forward a policy proposal, SB1399 Garment Worker Justice Bill, to guarantee their wage rights by expanding liability along the supply chain to the fashion brands and by banning the use of the exploitative piece rate system. And now, they demand that if they have been elevated to essential workers, their health and labor rights should also be essential and protected.

On May Day, we are all called upon to stand with workers and lift up their demands. California’s garment workers call for:

  1. Strong and robustly enforced protections for their health and wage rights in PPE producing factories. #EssentialWorkers #EssentialProtection
  2. Income replacement for unemployed, undocumented workers. #SafetyNet4AllofUs
  3. Accountability for workers’ wage rights from the factory floor to the fashion brand. #SB1399 #PayUp
  4. Ban the piece rate in California’s garment industry. #SB1399 #OneLegalWage

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