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American garment workers paid as little as 1.58 dollars per hour

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Image: Garment workers in Bangladesch, via Sumit Survawanshi for FashionUnited.

American garment workers are paid as little as 1.58 dollars per hour, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Labor.

A survey of Southern California garment-sewing contractors and manufacturers has found workers making garments sold by many of the nation’s leading fashion retailers often continue to be victims of wage theft and employers’ illegal pay practices.

Los Angeles, the center of the country's garment manufacturing industry, employs over 45,000 workers, with many working in sweatshop conditions regularly facing wage theft, abuse, and working an average of 55 hours a week with no overtime pay, according to Fashion Revolution.

Workers paid by completed piece

Based on data from more than 50 contractors and manufacturers, the 2022 Southern California Garment Survey released by the department’s Wage and Hour Division found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 80 percent of its investigations. More than 50 percent of the time, the division found employers illegally paying workers part or all their wages off the books, with payroll records either deliberately forged or not provided.

The fiscal year 2022 survey also found 32 percent of contractors paying garment workers piece-rate wages, a practice prohibited by the State of California since last year. Contractors and manufacturers included in the survey produce garments for sale by national retailers that include Bombshell Sportswear, Dillard’s, Lulus, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Socialite, Stitch Fix and Von Maur.

The truth behind 'Made in USA'

“Despite our efforts to hold Southern California’s garment industry employers accountable, we continue to see people who make clothes sold by some of the nation’s leading retailers working in sweatshops,” said Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Ruben Rosalez in San Francisco. “Many people shopping for clothes in stores and online are likely unaware that the ‘Made in the USA’ merchandise they’re buying was, in fact, made by people earning far less than the U.S. law requires.”

Division investigators unveiled one contractor paid garment workers as little as 1.58 per hour, nearly on par with the low wages received by Bangladeshi workers.

Global inflation continues to take its toll and not just on US-based garment workers. Last month unions in Bangladesh demanded an increase in the minimum wage from BDT8,000 (75 dollars) to BDT23,000 (US 215 dollars) for garment workers, as the country sees roaring inflation, leaving workers struggling to make ends meet.

Unlawful wages

The U.S. Department of Labor says it found that sewing fees paid by manufacturers to contractors were – on average – not enough for the contractors to properly pay their workers’ required minimum wages. Specifically, the studies determined the average sewing fee was 2.75 dollars below the amount needed per garment for sewing contractors to comply with federal wage standards. Contractors who paid employees in compliance with the law received a higher sewing fee, ranging from 17.50 dollars to 35 dollars per garment.

“The findings of the Southern California Garment Survey highlight why greater outreach and stronger enforcement are needed to combat the inequities that exist in the garment and fashion industries,” Rosalez added. “The Wage and Hour Division will continue to work and meet with advocates and industry stakeholders, and remain focused on holding accountable the manufacturers and retailers who reap significant profits while the people who did the hard work are too often not paid their rightful wages.”

Article source: U.S. Department of Labor

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