Garment worker wage claims in California have quadrupled since the 1999 passage of a landmark anti-sweatshop law, but rampant violations continue and many workers recover only a small fraction of the money they seek, according to a report released Wednesday.
The study by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Los Angeles said the state must do more to force employers to comply with minimum-wage laws. It recommended subpoenaing more company records in wage disputes and sanctioning firms that fail to comply.
“The state still has a long way to go to eliminate sweatshops,” said Judy Marblestone, coauthor of the study, which drew on more than 200 wage claims filed with the state. “These workers represent only a small fraction of tens of thousands of garment workers owed an estimated $80 million in wages a year in California.”
A message seeking comment from the state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement was not returned.
The law was enacted to help workers recover back wages from garment factories and from manufacturers that contract with the plants. The study identified some positive results, including settlements for 75% of workers who filed claims. Still, most have settled for a small percentage of what they claimed they were owed.
The study was based primarily on a random sample of 208 wage claims filed with the labor division from March 2001 to February 2004 -- about 20% of all claims filed during that period -- and on interviews with enforcement staff.
Carmela Alberta Monteroso, 40, of Los Angeles said a lack of enforcement kept her from benefiting under the law.
Monteroso recalled coming to the U.S. six years ago from Guatemala and spending three years working grueling hours at less than minimum wage, cutting threads and packaging clothes.
As a result of the sweatshop law, she received a judgment for more than $40,000 for back wages and overtime pay. But the factory folded, she said, and she has yet to collect any money.
“We were told the case is closed. There’s nothing we can do,” Monteroso said.