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Garment Worker Protection Act Passes California Legislature

Governor Gavin Newsom has until Oct. 10 to sign the bill into law. Shutterstock
Governor Gavin Newsom has until Oct. 10 to sign the bill into law. Shutterstock

The act, aimed at protecting wage theft from garment workers, passed on Wednesday in a 43-12 vote. Its passage was supported by labour activists, workers rights organisations and over 100 fashion businesses. It will return to the state Senate for final approval before being sent to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk.

Newsom has until Oct. 10 to sign or veto the bill, which could provide a new framework for manufacturing standards across the country if approved. The bill would eliminate piece-rate pay — a payment system in which garment workers are paid per item of clothing that can often amount to $2 or $5 an hour — in favour of California’s $14 minimum wage. It aims to hold brands accountable for low wages in factories and put an end to wage theft and fast-fashion practises that have plagued Los Angeles’ garment workers.

The bill was first introduced in December 2020, though moves towards its eventual passage have been in the works for much longer. In 2016, the US Department of Labor conducted investigations of 77 randomly selected factories in Los Angeles and found that factories only receive 73 percent of the price they need from apparel retailers and brands to be able to pay workers the minimum wage. A New York Times investigation in 2019 found that Los Angeles factories used by vendors and suppliers that had relationships with retailers including fast fashion label Fashion Nova owed $3.8 million in back wages, with workers being paid as little as $2.77 an hour. At the time, Fashion Nova denied the allegations as “categorically false” and has since issued a statement in support of the bill.

More recently, supply chain constraints during the pandemic have exacerbated the wage theft crisis in the state as fast fashion brands and other players practiced nearshoring to lower costs.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that it was Fashion Nova’s factories that were found to owe back wages. That is incorrect, it is actually factories used by vendors that Fashion Nova has worked with, not Fashion Nova-owned factories.

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