A week ago, the Garment Worker Protection Act, known as SB 1399, passed in California’s Senate and will be headed to the state assembly this month.
With the highest concentration of garment workers in the country, California’s garment industry is, as the bill text puts: “rife with violations of minimum wage law, overtime laws and health and safety standards.”
While in 1999, California passed a law that aimed to prevent wage theft, a loophole allows fashion brands and retailers to dodge liability by “creating layers of subcontracting” with claims they do not fall under the definition of “garment manufacturer.”
Under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, numerous payments to factories for goods in production or pending shipment were outright canceled, discounted or delayed. With the pivot in production to non-medical personal protective equipment, the bill and its supporters note “only minimal measures” are taken by factories to respect worker health. Because of payment by piece, workers are discouraged from breaks for proper sanitization and handwashing.
Reports from the Garment Worker Center confirm worker safety issues are spiking during the health crisis, putting factories like Los Angeles Apparel under fire.
Having been buried beneath layers of subcontractors, garment workers end up being paid an average of $5.15 per hour, as bill sponsor Sen. Maria Durazo notes, which is well below California’s minimum wage of $13.00 an hour, for employers with more than 26 employees.
SB 1399 would close the existing loophole and hold “contracting” fashion brands and retailers directly accountable under the law for garment workers’ unpaid wages, including unpaid minimum wage and overtime pay, “regardless of how many layers of contracting that person may use.”
It will also eliminate piece-rate compensation, wherein garment workers are paid per piece sewn in a day rather than hours worked.
Bill sponsors include the GWC, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, the California Labor Federation and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
Opposition came from the California Chamber of Commerce, which called it a “job killer” and industry trade group California Fashion Association, calling for groups to “look carefully” at the bill and posting a newsletter that urged industry leaders to “protect yourself.” While the views may not necessarily reflect those of its members, the group counts Los Angeles Apparel and others among its membership.
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