U.S. Labor Department Finds Southern California Garment Workers Owed Millions in Back Wages and Overtime

A U.S. Department of Labor survey of 221 investigations in the last year found that more than 1,500 Southern California garment workers are owned more than $3 million in unpaid wages.

The unpaid wages amounted to an average of $1,900 per worker, according to the department.

“Fierce competition in the garment industry leads many contract shops to lower the cost of their services, frequently at the expense of workers’ wages,” said David Weil, administrator for the Labor Department’s wage and hour division, in a statement. “When workers don’t receive the wages to which they are legally entitled, they can’t afford the basics, like food, rent and child care.”

The Department of Labor’s wage and hour division’s enforcement efforts include directed investigations and identifying supply chains to investigate. According to Ruben Rosalez, regional administrator for the wage and hour division’s Western region, the Department of Labor has increased its surveillance of the industry in recent years and is using more multilingual investigators.

According to the wage and hour division, minimum wage and overtime violations are typically high in the apparel industry. Department of Labor investigators found violations in nearly 90 percent of more than 1,600 cases in Southern California over the last five years, which led to more than $15 million in recovered wages for nearly 12,000 workers.

“We are committed to strong enforcement and providing educational workshops for employers, yet we continue to find significant problems in this industry,” Rosalez said in a statement. “We are using a variety of strategies to better protect workers and level the playing field for law-abiding businesses.”

Rosales said the wage and hour division is working with the department’s office of the solicitor “to obtain liquidated damages as a remedy for workers.” Civil money penalties against “repeat or willful offenders” may also be assessed. The division is also ensuring minimum wage and overtime-rules compliance by having manufacturers monitor their contractors, he said.

According to the Labor Department, an investigation of Montebello, Calif.–based Roger Garments resulted in more than $93,000 in overtime and minimum wage–related back wages paid to 44 workers. In the same investigation, the department also cited Santa Ana, Calif.–based Lunar Mode for nearly $7,000 in back wages. Lunar mode produced nearly half its goods at Roger Garments. The products were sold at Macy’s and other retailers, according to the Labor Department.

Another investigation helped recover more than $28,000 in minimum wage and overtime wages for 13 employees at South El Monte, Calif.–based Lucky Stars, which produced apparel for retailers such as Macy’s, JCPenney and Kohl’s, according to the Labor Department statement.

An investigation of Los Angeles–based EVE LA Inc. determined that 37 employees were due nearly $87,000 in unpaid minimum wage and overtime compensation. Investigators found that the workers were paid a flat weekly salary of $270 for an average of 50 hours a week to produce women’s apparel for Dan Bee Inc. and Lovely Day Fashion. According to a wage and hour statement, Dan Bee sells to retailers Must Have and Potter’s Pot and Lovely Day Fashion sells to Nasty Gal.

According to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, garment and other workers must be paid at least the national minimum wage ($7.25) for all hours worked, plus time and a half for overtime. The minimum wage in California is $9 per hour. In addition, the FLSA requires employers maintain accurate time and payroll records.

Weil and other Department of Labor officials were in Los Angeles on Nov. 6 to discuss the recent findings.