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A New Era of Protection for the Country’s Largest Garment Manufacturing Industry

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

Photograph Courtesy of No Kill Magazine

As the country’s largest garment manufacturing industry with over 45,000 working in cutting and sewing operations alone, Los Angeles is home to tens of thousands of garment workers, the majority of them being women of color and immigrant women from Mexico and Central America. Despite holding such magnitude in the country’s garment industry, Los Angeles garment workers suffer from sweatshop conditions, wage theft, abuse, and arduous work hours with no overtime pay. With efforts to fix such issues, California passed the landmark assembly bill 633 (AB633) in 1999 to end wage theft (Orquera). Unfortunately, this bill did not generate substantial reform as retailers and manufacturers merely advocated for other laws and protections to avoid liability. A 2010 UCLA investigation on “Wage Theft and Workplace Violations in Los Angeles” found that the garment industry suffered the highest rates of violations where “88 percent of low wage workers in LA experienced wage theft to the estimated sum of $26.2 million per week” (Doyle). Similarly, in 2000, the Department of Labour discovered that two-thirds of Southern California garment factories were not paying minimum wage (Doyle). After more than two decades since the original AB633, garment workers are finally gaining true protection within the industry.

Beginning in February of 2021, California Senator María Elena Durazo proposed SB62-Garment Worker Protection Act to help improve working conditions (exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic) for garment workers by placing stronger accountability upon brands. On June 26th, 2021, the bill passed in the State of California Senate (Doyle) and resulted in a 43-12 vote in the California State Assembly on September 8th (Deeley). Finally, on September 27th, 2021, California Governor Newsom signed the bill to help provide the following benefits:

[1. Eliminating the use of the piece-rate system of pay, instead of ensuring that the legal hourly wage becomes the floor, not the ceiling, of wages paid to garment workers. The bill allows for incentive based bonuses tied to productivity on top of the legal wage.

2. Establishing multilateral accountability among brands and manufacturers for wage violations.

3. Strengthening the authority of the Labor Commissioner’s investigation bureau to investigate and cite violations up the supply chain.] (block quote from Orquera)

Rather than allowing wages of $2.68 an hour and horrible conditions, the act serves as a catalyst in improving both the standard and quality of living for garment workers by providing them with a livable wage and a better working environment. In the words of California Governor, Gavin Newsom, this act will revolutionize the industry by holding “corporations accountable and [recognize] the dignity and humanity of our workers” and protecting “marginalized low-wage workers...ensuring they are paid what they are due and improving workplace conditions.” As fashion plays such a big role within today’s consumer climate, there must be higher awareness of how various brands’ clothing are being produced and the conditions workers are subject to. To prevent relapses with faulty policies such as AB633, the Garment Worker Protection Act proves to be a crucial piece of legislation that supports the livelihoods of California garment workers and the sustainability and longevity of fashion.

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