September 2021 was a critical time in California, which houses the fifth largest economy in the world and the most extensive apparel production hub in the United States. The fair wages of over 46,000 garment workers, mostly women of color, lay in the hands of SB62 – a bill sitting on Governor Newsom’s desk, waiting for a decision to be signed or vetoed.
“Today we won justice for garment workers,” Senator Durazo said. “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 that are doing the right thing. Ethical fashion is the future.”
SB62, more specifically, addresses wage theft in California’s garment industry by ending the piece rate system of pay which compensates workers for every hem, seam and cuff they sew. In most cases, apparel workers finish with as little as three cents per garment amounting to less than $5 an hour. Employers are expected to make up the difference and pay the legal minimum in such circumstances; however, brands have exploited loopholes in the law for over 20 years, resulting in the depletion of the Garment Worker Restitution Fund.
Established by the original Garment Worker Protection Act, AB633 (Steinberg) in 1999, the Garment Worker Restitution Fund has been overwhelmed with wage claims by hundreds of workers annually, and is often insolvent. At this moment the fund carries a balance of $700,000, with unpaid wage claims to garment workers totaling $7 million.
“It’s often California taxpayers who have to back fill the Garment Worker Restitution Fund and fill in these gaps in wages that are owed to garment workers that starts with the purchasing practices of big brands,” said Elizabeth Cline, author and advocacy and policy director of Remake.
Final Random Inspections (FRI) done in 2015 and 2016 by the U.S. The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division demonstrated that 85% of the 77 garment shops inspected were found to have wage violations. These numbers do not account for many undocumented Latino immigrants who have not come forward to file wage claims out of fear of deportation or whose communties have lost substantial economic support due to the lost income.
SB62 requires employers to pay an hourly wage and only allows piece-rate compensation as an incentive bonus, unless provided for in a collective bargaining agreement. The bill passed the Senate and was heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee mid-August.
The industry was headed in a dangerous direction by lowering standards of quality exponentially and endangering the well-being of thousands of garment workers. Passing SB62 was a necessary step towards leveling the playing field to grow a strong ethical fashion industry in California.
“Passing these regulations could help establish a new standard of compliance and help drive decision making for the industry at large. SB62 would also make ethical sourcing the norm in Los Angeles and help the local manufacturing industry and its workers. It’ll give brands like Reformation more opportunities to collaborate with other brands, to work together towards ensuring that factories are providing healthy and safe working conditions for the men and women who make our clothes,” said Carrie Freiman, director of Sustainability for Reformation.
SB62 was endorsed by over 150 industry leaders, more than half of which are minority-owned or are small- and medium-sized businesses. It has also gained support from leading brands & manufacturers, like Reformation, Christy Dawn, Saitex, Mara Hoffman, and Boyish Jeans. SB62’s 150 industry endorsers include many local manufacturers and brands who believe that dignified fair wages and strong accountability lead to better products and higher profits, which have the potential to solidify California’s role as the sustainable fashion capital of the US.
For more information, visit Remake online @remakeworld.