Garment Worker Protection Act Meets First Vote of 2021

The Garment Worker Protection Act is on its way, with many more businesses vocalizing support.

On Monday, California’s Labor Subcommittee, consisting of California Sens. Dave Cortese, Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, María Elena Durazo (one of the bill’s authors), John Laird and Josh Newman, convened in Sacramento to cast the first votes on the bill for the 2021 legislative season.

The bill — known as SB 62 — received four votes and is on its way forward, with many more votes ahead.

In December, SB 62 was reintroduced for the 2021 legislative season after it missed the vote before the state assembly adjourned. More than 90 businesses, including Reformation, Senza Tempo Fashion and Suay Sew Shop, are supporting the bill.

With it, the aim is to close a loophole in the original legislation (a landmark worker protection law enacted in 1999) that allows brands and retailers to evade responsibility for subcontractor activity. It endeavors to end wage theft for garment workers and piece rate pay, which the L.A.-based labor group Garment Worker Center (GWC) cites as mere pennies for a range of garment activities.

Previously, Durazo said the state of “Made in L.A.” apparel is in jeopardy of being tarnished by “bad actors.”

Groups like the Garment Worker Center in Los Angeles, one of the bill’s supporters, believe the bill could be a hopeful turning point for garment worker rights.

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Over the past 20 years since the passage of the original legislation, thousands of garment workers in California have experienced wage theft due to sub-minimum wages, a situation only worsened due to the coronavirus.

According to GWC’s December report, garment workers in Los Angeles made roughly $5.85 an hour, or $334 a week on average, for more than 57 hours of labor, without compensation for meal and rest breaks. Some 46,200 garment workers are employed in the sector and many have been owed stolen wages for years, totaling as much as $10 million, as Durazo cited.

GWC member Maria del Carmen Hernandez testified in support of the bill saying she has had “terrible experiences with wage theft” over her 30 years as a garment worker, working recently for brands like Forever 21 and Fashion Nova (a company that has supported the bill despite accusations against its working conditions). Over the years, she has seen factory owners rather shutter their operations than pay her what she is owed, as she described in her testimony. “We want brands to be held accountable so they pay just wages and eliminate piece rate since employers say to us that they cannot pay us more since they are paid too little by the brands,” she said.

Questions arose from the Committee Monday over the bill’s language around “brand guarantors” and existing lack of enforcement on minimum wage laws.

Durazo responded saying without closing loopholes, factories will “show up next door under a new name,” while brands continue to evade responsibility. “This web of contractors is a huge problem.”

Opposition came from the California Chamber of Commerce, again, calling the bill a “job killer” and “dangerous precedent regarding joint liability” in the words of policy advocate Ashley Hoffman, who spoke at the session. Trade groups such as the California Retail Association also opposed the bill.

Before SB 62 can become a law, it will need to undergo a series of votes, including nine votes in the Senate and four in the Assembly, and finally, that of California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

For More, See:

The Irony of Fashion Nova in Era of New Fervor for Garment Worker Rights

‘Landmark’ Garment Worker Legislation Could Redefine Sustainable Fashion

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