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Stop wage theft in the L.A. garment industry

To the editor: The rampant wage theft in the Los Angeles garment industry is a painful reminder of our failure to protect those who stitch our clothes. ("Southern California is hotbed for wage theft in garment industry," Nov. 15)

The root cause of this pain is suggested by Ilse Metchek of the California Fashion Assn., who candidly admitted that manufacturers want to pay local contractors at Chinese or Mexican rates (or just 10% more), and that some firms violate wage laws because its cheaper just to pay the fines if ever caught. But, Metchek cautions us: "Let's not categorize it as people standing there with a whip. Rampant worker mistreatment is a mischaracterization."

With the bar set so low, we should not be surprised that a culture of impunity prevails?

While the industry has resisted sweatshop laws that create real accountability at the top, it has benefited from strong anti-counterfeiting laws. Under the federal Lanham Act, fashion firms can bring their own suits against counterfeiters, seize goods and collect treble damages plus attorneys fees. Why should garment workers be afforded less protection?

Steve Nutter, Los Angeles

The writer served as regional director of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and UNITE from 1986 to 1999.

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