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EPIC News – October 2021


Western Center’s 2021 Legislative Wrap-Up

The California legislative season is over, and many Western Center priorities made it past the governor’s pen to become law. Our 2021 Legislative Wrap-Up includes Western Center’s collection of co-sponsored bills that were signed by the governor this year, as well as those we plan to bring back next year. Highlights include:

  • SB 62 – The Garment Worker Protection Act: Seeks to end wage theft in the California garment industry and ensure decent wages for California garment workers by holding California fashion brands to a higher standard of responsibility for the labor of garment workers.
  • SB 65 – The California Momnibus: an innovative and comprehensive piece of legislation that reimagines perinatal care in order to close the existing racial gaps in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity within the state.

Garden Party Success! 

A huge thank you to everyone who attended and supported this year’s Garden Party, our signature event highlighting Western Center’s ongoing efforts to fight poverty in California. Special thanks to this year’s incredible honorees and sponsors. If you were unable to attend Garden Party but still want to contribute, you can do so here. We need your help to reach our fundraising goal!

If you would like to see a snippet from Garden Party, check out our We Are Western Center video!


Meet Western Center’s Newest Team Members 

We are excited to introduce our newest team members, Lorraine López, Kathryn Evans, Abraham Zavala, and fellow Liv Williams! Find out more about Lorraine, Kathryn, Abraham, and Liv here.


Latina Equal Pay Day

October 21st was Latina Equal Pay Day, marking the number of days into 2021 Latinas had to work to catch up to what white, non-Hispanic men made last year. Overall, Latinas make 57 cents to a white man’s dollar, if they are mothers, that number goes down to 46 cents. Latina Equal Pay Day marks the final Equal Pay Day of 2021 — Latinas must work the most to get paid the least.

Latinas are the foundation of so many communities, and ultimately, this country and many others. In the conversations about what work is considered essential, Latinas are often mentioned, yet they are hardly compensated accordingly. That is why Western Center worked so hard as part of the coalition that got SB 62 signed into law this year to protect California’s garment workers – many of whom are Latinas making well below minimum wage despite their critical role upholding the fashion industry. It is our hope that SB 62 sets a standard not only for how Latinas are treated and paid in the garment industry, but also that it continues conversations about reforms needed in other sectors.


Western Center’s 2021 Legislative Wrap-Up 

The  2021 California legislative season is over, and Governor Newsom has signed the bills that will become law. Many Western Center priorities made it past the governor’s pen, including groundbreaking legislation like SB 62, which makes California an international leader in the fight to end exploitation of people working in the garment industry, and SB 65, which implements proven interventions to lower California’s unacceptably high mortality rate for Black and Indigenous people who give birth here. 

Below is our slate of co-sponsored bills that were signed by the governor this year, as well as those we plan to bring back next year.


HIGHLIGHTS

SB 62 – The Garment Worker Protection Act seeks to end wage theft in the California garment industry and ensure decent wages for California garment workers by holding California fashion brands to a higher standard of responsibility for the labor of garment workers.  

SB 65 – The California Momnibus is an innovative and comprehensive piece of legislation that reimagines perinatal care in order to close existing racial gaps in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity within the state. 


FINANCIAL SECURITY

AB 461 – CalWORKs Self Employment: Creates a more accessible pathway for CalWORKs recipients to choose self-employment as a work activity. This bill is timely as the state begins to rebuild its economy, which will heavily rely on the talents and creativity of Californians with an entrepreneurial spirit. 


HEALTH

AB 326 – Removes the sunset clause to permanently extend the Consumer Protection Program, which awards advocacy fees to any person or organization that represents the interests of consumers and has made a substantial contribution on regulations, orders, or decisions, within the Department of Managed Health Care.

AB 1020 – Enforcement of the Hospital Fair Pricing Act: We hope that passage of this bill means patients no longer need lawyers to benefit from the Hospital Fair Pricing Act. This bill rose directly out of our legal services partners’ experience in trying to enforce the Hospital Fair Pricing Act. Major components include prohibiting hospitals from selling debt to debt buyers unless they meet all the current standards applicable to debt collectors and agree to take a bill back if the patient should have gotten financial assistance, Medi-Cal, or another payor for their bill; requiring debt collectors and debt buyers to also send patients applications for financial assistance; and increasing eligibility for patients for financial assistance from 350% of the poverty level to 400%.

AB 1355 (2-Year Bill Extending Into Next Year) – Expands Independent Medical Reviews to all Medi-Cal beneficiaries to ensure more beneficiaries can access medically necessary care. Also improves the state’s fair hearing process. 

SB 644 (2-Year Bill Extending Into Next Year) – Allows California’s unemployment department to share information with Covered California when someone applies for or loses benefits to help individuals apply for Covered California or Medi-Cal.


HOUSING

AB 832 – Extended the temporary halt on evictions for nonpayment of rent until September 31, 2021. The bill also created additional tenant protections in court that may halt an eviction if the tenant qualifies and has an approved application for rent relief. For more information, please refer to our COVID-19 tenant relief fact sheet. To apply for financial assistance please visit housingiskey.com.

AB 838 – Enforcement Response to Housing Complaints: Prohibits local code inspection agencies in California from implementing restrictions or preconditions before responding to tenant habitability complaints. The bill specifically prohibits code enforcement agencies from refusing to inspect a unit based on unreasonable conditions, including on the basis that the tenant is behind on rent, is alleged to be in violation of their lease, or is currently in an unlawful detainer (eviction) or other legal dispute with the landlord.

AB 1304 – Affirmatively Further Fair Housing: Strengthens requirements for cities and counties to analyze and proactively address fair housing issues as part of their obligation to affirmatively further fair housing. The bill requires the housing element to include an analysis of how the jurisdiction’s inventory of housing affirmatively furthers fair housing; requires that in assessing contributing factors to fair housing issues, jurisdictions look through both a local and a regional lens, take race into account, and examine historical context; and requires jurisdictions to state explicit goals, objectives, and policies related to affirmatively furthering fair housing. 

SB 91 – Expanded protections provided by AB 3088 (2020) and established a statewide rental relief program that pays up to 100% of arrears, prospective rent, and utilities for households experiencing COVID-19 financial hardships. The bill also extended a temporary halt on evictions for nonpayment of rent until June 2021. SB 91 prohibited landlords from charging or attempting to charge late fees and explicitly prohibits the sale or assignment of any unpaid COVID-19 rental debt. 

EPIC News – August 2021


Back to Session

The California Legislature is back from summer recess, which means it’s down to the wire for getting bills passed. The last day for each house to pass bills is September 10th. Check here for the status of Western Center bills as they reach the end of this year’s session.


Fighting to End Wage Theft in California’s Garment Industry

Earlier this month, to kick of the Legislature’s return, our partners at Garment Worker Center in Los Angeles loaded a bus at midnight, after a long day of work, to come to Sacramento to advocate for SB 62, The Garment Worker Protection Act, which seeks to end wage theft in the California garment industry and ensure decent wages. We are co-sponsoring the bill with the Garment Worker Center for the second year in a row because California is home to widespread workplace injustice. In fact, Los Angeles is understood to be the sweatshop capital of the United States.

Currently, many brands producing in California (some selling $78 t-shirts) pay garment workers as little at 11 cents per piece – leaving wages well below the state minimum. California can and should do better to ensure economic dignity for the thousands of workers in its substantial garment industry by passing SB 62.

Check out the video from our day in Sacramento with the Garment Worker Center.


Big Win in Los Angeles for COVID Tenant Protections

Last week, California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the City of Los Angeles’ COVID tenant protections, which were challenged by The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. Western Center and our partners at Public Counsel, The Public Interest Law Project, and Susman Godfrey LLP represent two tenants’ rights organizations, ACCE Action and Strategic Action for a Just Economy (SAJE), who successfully sought to intervene in the lawsuit to defend the ordinances.

The recent Ninth Circuit decision is an important affirmation of the ongoing need for COVID protections to protect public health and keep people housed.

Western Center senior attorney Nisha Vyas explains more about the case here.


Women’s Equality Day & Women’s Equal Pay Day

August 26th was Women’s Equality Day, the day we remember the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted some women in the United States the right to vote. Of course, back in 1920 there were plenty of other systemic barriers to voting, especially for women of color. Too much of that struggle still exists today, which is why we must remember the fights that brought us the rights we have now, as well as the work that remains. To that end, we hope every California voter reading this will cast a ballot in the Gubernatorial Recall Election on or before September 14th.

Native Women’s Equal Pay Day is coming up on September 8th; according to the Equal Pay Today campaign, Native Women earn approximately 60 cents on the dollar of white, non-Hispanic men. September 8th is the day Native women must work into 2021 to make what white men made by the end of 2020. The Equal Pay Day movement includes days of acknowledgement throughout the year that represent the dates women must work into a new year to be paid what men were paid the previous year.


Garden Party: Mark Your Calendar! 

Western Center’s annual Garden Party fundraiser is Thursday, October 14th from 6-7pm PDT. We will highlight our work from the year and honor the amazing contributions of five stellar individuals. And since it’s virtual, you can join from wherever you are!

Get details and tickets here.


PRESS RELEASE: CA Garment Workers Continue Fight Against Wage Theft

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.

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

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