This week's labor-standards sweep of garment factories by state inspectors in Los Angeles and Orange counties was welcome. But tougher legislation is needed to remind manufacturers that garment workers must be treated fairly. Gov. Pete Wilson recently stopped one bill in its tracks when he would not support forcing manufacturers to share liability for lost wages when subcontractors fail to pay their workers money that they are owed.
Now Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee, is drafting an alternative measure that would require garment manufacturers to post wage bonds when they register with the state; they are already required to register annually.
Annual bonds currently are required for talent and athletic agents, the construction industry and farm labor contractors. It makes sense to extend the requirement to the garment industry so that there is a pool of cash from which to pay workers cheated out of their already meager wages.
Unfortunately, sweatshops have a long tradition in California. That's because there is a large pool of cheap labor--usually immigrant women--and a huge demand for garment manufacturing. Companies that are on the up and up pay decent wages, but there are too many others that are fly-by-night operations.
Wage bonds can't solve all of the problems of garment industry workers, but they definitely could help. Friedman's legislation deserves serious consideration by Wilson and the Legislature.