Accountability is now the Law in California after Decades of Injustices in the Fashion Industry
January 2022 marked a pivotal milestone to make life financially better for thousands of garment workers living in California. That milestone was Senate Bill 62, the Garment Worker Protection Act—making California the first state to require hourly wages for garment workers. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law on September 27, 2021. It officially took effect on January 1, 2022.
The Garment Worker Protection Act intends to level wage gaps in the fashion-manufacturing field by preventing wage theft, improving working conditions, and mandating fair pay. All workers should be able to hold fair working conditions to be self-evident, but the unfair treatment of garment workers has been largely ignored and enabled for decades.
Support for the Garment Worker Protection Act came from grassroots organizing by garment workers. The 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns seemed to be the tipping point for intolerable conditions. Garment workers put their foot down in protests. They also began reporting garment factories that persisted with manufacturing without social distancing protections. L.A. County officials shut down a garment company in South L.A. due to more than 300 COVID-19 cases and 4 deaths.
Demographics are an ugly truth in the longstanding garment worker injustice. The estimated 45,000 garment workers in California are largely immigrant women. In an article by RopesGray.com, Garment Worker Center approximates that most laborers work between 60 to 70 hours per week--only earning about $300. The question begs answering, “Why so many hours and so little pay?” Unfortunately, manufacturers use a method of compensation called piecework, which pays workers by the item, not by the hour. Each garment pays between two and six cents--a manipulative incentive to work faster to increase an already unlivable wage.
Now piecework is prohibited with the passing of the Garment Worker Protection Act. Garment workers will be required to earn at least minimum wage, which is currently $14/hour in California. Other triumphs of this legislation include:
• Expanding the definition of garment manufacturing to include dyeing, altering a garment’s design, and affixing a label to a garment.
• Increasing recordkeeping requirements from three to four years for manufacturers, contractors, and brand guarantors.
• Making recordkeeping more extensive, including employee information, hours worked, contracts, invoices, purchase orders, daily production including piece rates, etc.
• Allowing employees to recover unpaid wages and associated penalties by filing a claim with the Labor Commissioner against the contractor, garment manufacturer, and brand guarantor.
California State Senator Maria Elena Durazo represents Senate District 24. This area has many constituents working for the garment industry. Upon Governor Newsom signing Bill 62 into law, SenatorDurazo, who authored the bill, gave the following response:
Today, we won justice for garment workers…for too long, bad-actor manufacturers have exploited garment workers toiling in unsanitary conditions for as little as $5 an hour. I applaud Governor Newsom for signing this important legislation to safeguard legal wages and dignified working conditions for this highly-skilled workforce and level the playing field for ethical manufacturers doing the right thing. Ethical fashion is the future!
Although California has taken a tremendous step toward evening the playing field, there is still much to be done. Unfair treatment of garment workers is a global problem that deserves a global solution.
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