A bill that would have fundamentally changed how garment workers are paid had enough votes to pass during last year’s legislative session, its supporters say, but ran out of time during the session’s frenzied final hours.
This year, the Garment Worker Protection Act is back as Senate Bill 62, and Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, a Los Angeles Democrat and its sponsor, is on a barnstorming tour across Southern California to gin up support ahead of this year’s session.
“I’m proud to be a Californian,” she told an audience in Venice. “One thing I’m not proud of is the exploitation and the wage theft that’s taking place in Los Angeles day after day after day.”
But garment manufacturers say the pandemic provided an unexpected boon to their business in the U.S., a nascent success story amid economic calamity that is threatened by the bill, which creates new liabilities across California’s clothing supply chain from factory subcontractors to retailers.
Pandemic supply chain disruption
“This pandemic has created a surge of business back in the U.S.,” said Scott Wilson, president of the Los Angeles organic garment manufacturer UStrive Manufacturing. “The global supply chain disruption has my phone ringing off the hook.
“We don’t need anything right now to hinder that, at all. This is a golden window. And I’m concerned that this bill will cut the knees out from underneath the garment industry here in Southern California.”
The bill isn’t aimed at manufacturers like UStrive. Instead, it’s targeted at the underground garment industry by forcing them to pay by the hour. Workers in those shops and academics who study the garment industry have told CalMatters that underground operations are able to move among buildings seemingly overnight in order to avoid detection.
While running underground operations, they’re able to pay a rate as low as 12 cents per piece, which garment worker advocates say qualifies as wage theft.