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Based on data from more than 50 contractors and manufacturers, the 2022 Southern California Garment Survey released recently by the Department’s Wage and Hour Division, found violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 80% of its investigations.

The findings state that more than 50% of the time, employers illegally payed workers either part or all their wages off the books, with payroll records either deliberately forged or not provided.

The survey also found 32% of contractors paying garment workers piece-rate wages – a practice prohibited by the State of California on 1 January 2022.

In a particularly egregious case, the investigation revealed “a contractor paid garment workers as little as $1.58 per hour.”

Ruben Rosalez, regional wage and hour administrator in San Francisco, explained: “Despite our efforts to hold Southern California’s garment industry employers accountable, we continue to see people who make clothes sold by some of the nation’s leading retailers working in sweatshops. Many people shopping for clothes in stores and online are likely unaware that the ‘Made in the USA’ merchandise they’re buying was, in fact, made by people earning far less than the US law requires.”

As part of the survey, the division conducted time and pricing studies and found that sewing fees paid by manufacturers to contractors were – on average – not enough for the contractors to properly pay their workers’ required minimum wages.

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Specifically, the studies determined the average sewing fee was $2.75 below the amount needed per garment for sewing contractors to comply with federal wage standards. Contractors who paid employees in compliance with the law received a higher sewing fee, ranging from $17.50 to $35 per garment.

In conjunction with the release of the results for the Southern California Garment Survey, the department hosted a listening session in Los Angeles with garment workers and stakeholders, representatives from state and local attorneys general, and the non-profit Garment Worker Center and Bet Tzedek Legal Clinic.

In 2022, investigations by the division’s Southern California district offices in Los Angeles, San Diego and West Covina, led to the recovery of more than $892,000 in back wages and liquidated damages for 296 workers.

The division also secured agreements with manufacturers to monitor contractors to ensure FLSA compliance.