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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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