The Fair Labor Standards Act, a federal statute that was originally a product of the New Deal, sets minimum standards that determine which workers must be paid the federal minimum wage and overtime. A recent study by the United States Department of Labor has found that a large number of garment manufacturers in Southern California are violating these rules by failing to pay the minimum wage or failing to pay for overtime work.
The study included 77 investigations of randomly selected garment manufacturers in the Los Angeles area. Most of the manufacturers were making clothes for low-price retailers such as Ross and TJ Maxx, but some were also making higher priced clothing for retailers such as Nordstrom. The Labor Department found wage and hour violations in 85% of the instances that it investigated. The most common violations were the failure to pay the prevailing minimum wage or to pay overtime. The study noted that many of the workers are immigrants who do not speak or read English with enough fluency to understand their rights and who are afraid to assert their FLSA rights.
The Labor Department study focused on the retailers because their cooperation is necessary to solve the problem. A Labor Department official said that "We need the retailers to come to the table to help us." Some of the retailers, including Forever 21 and Ross, issued statements that they take the violations seriously and require their vendors to obey the law. The economic cost of the violations can be measured by the amount of back wages owed to workers. The study found that a total of $1.3 million in unpaid overtime and back wages is owed to 865 garment workers.
Both California and the United States require the payment of a minimum wage and overtime. As the Labor Department study indicates, violations of these laws are not infrequent, and hourly workers must be vigilant to protect their rights.
Source: KPCC, "Labor Department investigation finds 85 percent of LA garment factories break wage rules," Ben Bergman, Nov. 17, 2016