By Ludwig Hurtado


California garment worker Santa Son had hoped this was the year the state Legislature would end a system that pays her and other workers for the number of items they make — not the hours they work.

Some days, her job is to stitch tags or labels for clothes that carry the proud slogan "Made in America" or "Made in LA."


"Those pay you around 3 cents apiece," said Son, who has worked in the industry for over 15 years.

Son said that under the piece-rate system, she has to work 60 hours to 75 hours a week to earn $300. Although a state law is supposed to ensure that employers make up the difference so workers get paid the minimum wage, the U.S. Labor Department found wage violations in 85 percent of the California garment factories it visited.


"In the garment industry, there's a lot of exploitation and a lot of wage theft," Son said.

Son and many of her peers were advocating for California to pass the Garment Worker Protection Act. It would have ensured hourly pay for workers and closed loopholes that have allowed the state's more than 45,000 mostly immigrant garment workers to be paid an average of $5 an hour.

"The biggest culprits of wage theft in L.A. County are in the garment industry," said state Sen. Maria Durazo, a Democrat from Los Angeles, who introduced the bill in April with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat representing a San Diego-area district.


The bill died in the Senate, failing to come up for a vote during the final hours of California's legislative session, which adjourned Aug. 31. The session was suspended for two months because the number of Covid-19 cases surged. California legislators meet every two years.

Most of the U.S. garment production industry is in California, where many clothes and, increasingly, fabric masks are cut and sewn every day by garment workers who can work long shifts in often-crowded factories.


In some instances, workers can make well above the minimum wage through the piece-rate system. But advocates for the Garment Worker Protection Act say the rates in the apparel industry are so low that workers rarely make more than $6 an hour. The measure would have allowed for piece-rate compensation in the form of incentive bonuses.


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