California ends piecework for garment workers, secures minimum hourly wages
California Governor Gavin Newsom (R) on Monday signed a bill that will require garment factories in the state to pay workers a minimum hourly wage.
The law, said Senate Bill 62, prohibits the industry’s long-standing practice of piecework, in which workers are paid according to the number of units of work they complete in a certain period of time.
Critics say the piecework system forces workers to work at dangerous speeds and as a result many workers are paid less than the minimum wage. Under the new law, employers can only use a piece-rate system to determine bonuses.
The law also goes further by putting fashion brands on the hook for wage violations at the California factories that produce their clothes. Brands typically rely on an outsourcing system, putting multiple layers of companies between themselves and the employers overseeing workers in the factory.
The bill was sponsored by State Senator María Elena Durazo (D), former vice-president of the Unite Here union. Durazo said in a statement that the legislation “would level the playing field for ethical manufacturers doing the right thing.”
“For too long, the makers of bad actors have exploited garment workers working in unsanitary conditions for as little as $ 5 an hour,” Durazo said.
Most of the clothes Americans wear are now made overseas, but of those still made in the United States, many come from factories in Los Angeles. More than 45,000 workers, mostly Latino and Asian immigrants, produce clothes in the city’s garment industry, according to the Garment Worker Center, an advocacy group that supported SB 62. Many end up doing so be paid in cash.
The work tends to involve long hours, low pay, and many occupational hazards. A 2016 to study by the University of California, Los Angeles Labor Center, based on worker surveys, found factories teeming with dust, poor ventilation and blocked exits. The study set the average wage at $ 5.15 an hour at the time, claiming that “these well below minimum wages are a direct result of abuses of the piece rate system.”
The US Department of Labor often cites garment factories in Los Angeles for wage and hour violations, finding cases of workers not receiving minimum wage or not receiving overtime pay. The New York Times reported in 2019 that “fast fashion” brand Fashion Nova had its clothes produced in facilities that owed nearly $ 4 million in salary arrears over the course of three years.
For too long, the makers of bad actors have exploited garment workers working in unsanitary conditions for as little as $ 5 an hour.State of California Sen. María Elena Durazo (D)
Business groups opposed SB 62, but not because it abolished the piece rate system. On the contrary, they disliked the way the law would hold brands more accountable for wage theft at contracted facilities by toughening up a related law passed in 1999, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The California Chamber of Commerce had urged Newsom vetoed the bill, arguing that clothing manufacturers would take their business out of the state rather than risk having to reimburse the wages of contractors. “It will be much easier for a retailer or brand to find a manufacturer located elsewhere, for example in Arizona or Bangladesh, that does not present these liability issues,” read a blog post on the website of the group.
SB 62 was not the only notable worker-backed bill to be enacted on Monday. Newsom also signed Senate Bill 639, which will end the use of “sheltered workshops” that allow below minimum wages for workers with disabilities.
Sheltered workshops are controversial but common in the United States. Supporters argue that they provide opportunities for workers who might not otherwise have them. However, groups such as the National Down Syndrome Society have called for their phasing out, saying they exploit vulnerable workers with reduced wages.
California joins at least 10 other states on the way to the abolition of wages below the minimum in sheltered workshops. Under the new law, those facilities will have to pay workers at least California’s minimum wage by 2025.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.