The Assembly on Monday approved a bill that would crack down on the latest proliferation of garment industry sweatshops in Orange and Los Angeles counties by making designer-name garment houses responsible for child labor and overtime abuses committed by their independent suppliers.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-West Los Angeles), was introduced in March after a series of articles in The Times revealed that many independent contractors run sweatshops paying as little as $1.45 an hour to children and immigrants.
It will be sent to the Senate for consideration.
Under provisions of the bill, name-brand clothing manufacturers would be held “jointly liable” for labor and safety violations committed by their subcontractors, many of whom pay immigrant children and women by the piece of clothing sewn in their homes or in crowded, fire-prone shops. Depending on the complexity of the job and the speed of the stitcher, the piece rate often translates into less than the California minimum wage of $4.25 an hour.
In the past, these independent jobbers have avoided paying fines simply by folding their operations when cited by state labor officials, leaving many of the exploited workers stranded without even their meager pay. Hayden’s bill would change that by placing the burden of the fines and back pay on the manufacturers who hired the independent jobbers.
Hayden and supporters of the bill--the California Labor Federation and the International Ladies Garments Workers Union--say the change is necessary because of widespread labor abuses.
“This is an industry where there’s a lot of documented lawlessness--child-labor violations, unsafe working conditions, fire hazards, people not getting paid what they deserve,” Hayden said. “And it’s the very structure of the industry that’s out of control.”
“This (the bill) is to make the manufacturer liable for the rampant lawlessness instead of what they now do, which is reap the benefit but take none of the burden,” he said.
The bill, which passed 44 to 30, received support from Assemblywoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles), whose district encompasses the downtown Los Angeles garment district. “On any given day, you can go to any one of these buildings and see the most deplorable working conditions imaginable,” she said, adding that some shops have structural problems, blocked exits and piles of flammable materials.
But Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), who said he was equally opposed to the labor abuses even though he joined fellow Republicans in opposing the measure, maintained that the Hayden bill would place an inappropriate burden on the manufacturers.