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01-06-13 Los Angeles Garment Sweatshops

01-06-13 Los Angeles Garment Sweatshops

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Published by William J Greenberg
Almost one-fifth of the garment industry workers in Los Angeles, many of them foreigners who came to the United States to escape the crushing poverty of their homelands, are toiling in unregulated, sweatshop conditions, labor officials, economists and union organizers said today.
Exactly how many find themselves bound to employers who take advantage of their legal status, naivete and cultural alienation is not known. But experts said their numbers were flourishing despite a host of regulations on labor, health, safety and immigration designed to flush them out and shut their employers down.
Almost one-fifth of the garment industry workers in Los Angeles, many of them foreigners who came to the United States to escape the crushing poverty of their homelands, are toiling in unregulated, sweatshop conditions, labor officials, economists and union organizers said today.
Exactly how many find themselves bound to employers who take advantage of their legal status, naivete and cultural alienation is not known. But experts said their numbers were flourishing despite a host of regulations on labor, health, safety and immigration designed to flush them out and shut their employers down.

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Published by: William J Greenberg on Jun 07, 2013
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07/10/2014

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Los Angeles Sweatshops Are Thriving, Experts Say
By KENNETH B. NOBLE
Almost one-fifth of the garment industry workers in Los Angeles, many of them foreigners whocame to the United States to escape the crushing poverty of their homelands, are toiling inunregulated, sweatshop conditions, labor officials, economists and union organizers said today.Exactly how many find themselves bound to employers who take advantage of their legal status,naivete and cultural alienation is not known. But experts said their numbers were flourishingdespite a host of regulations on labor, health, safety and immigration designed to flush them outand shut their employers down.“I have heard things like this for years,” said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the Los Angelesoffice of the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s one of these dirty little secrets that everyoneknows about.”On Wednesday, state agents raided a makeshift garment factory in El Monte, Calif., where theyfound nearly 70 workers from Thailand who lived and worked, sometimes for years, inconditions the agents described as close to servitude.Federal immigration officials acknowledged today that they knew of conditions at the El Montefactory nearly three years ago but that they took no action until state officials got a similar tip sixweeks ago.“The state solicited our participation to join them when they issued the search warrant, and weagreed,” said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.“But later our people felt that it was inappropriate to be present for a state warrant. We thoughtthat maybe the case would be thrown out for a technicality.”Victoria Bradshaw, California’s Labor Commissioner, today called the El Monte situation anaberration. She added, “I don’t believe it’s widespread.”Indeed, formal complaints about involuntary servitude are relatively rare. Since 1990, the JusticeDepartment has prosecuted 29 people for violations of the antislavery laws, and 26 wereconvicted or pleaded guilty. Most of the cases involved migrant workers in Eastern states, notAsians in California.
 
Still, while brutal conditions like those found in the El Monte case are unusual, thousands of other workers often find themselves trapped in bleak, unregulated workplaces.Of the estimated 120,000 garment industry workers in the Los Angeles area, 15,000 to 20,000work in unregulated, sweatshop conditions, said Jack Kyser, chief economist of the EconomicDevelopment Corporation of Los Angeles.“A lot of times you get people coming from offshore and setting up these shops, because it’s avery easy industry to get into and you don’t need a lot of capital,” Mr. Kyser said. “But in manycases they don’t understand all the rules and regulations they have to comply with and all theforms they have to fill out.“They’re probably doing business like they did it in the country of their origin, but in the UnitedStates, they’re breaking the law.”In a random survey last year of 69 California garment manufacturers and contractors, the stateLabor Department found rampant violations of safety and labor laws, including cases of employers locking fire exits and children as young as 13 working nine hours a day.The survey also showed that 50 percent of employers violated rules requiring them to payworkers the minimum wage, 68 percent violated overtime requirements, and 92.8 percentviolated various health and safety regulations. Workplace conditions are likely to be worst inmakeshift factories that operate outside the law.Joseph Rodriquez, executive director of the Garment Contractors Association, said: “Somethinglike we saw in El Monte, with the slavery and barbed wire, is extremely rare. Unfortunately, it isnot rare to find illegal contractors who are not registered with the state.”He added: “The company that isn’t registered is probably violating minimum wage laws or overtime laws. That’s what gives our industry a bad name.”At the El Monte factory, workers sewed strips of ready-to-wear garments, some of which endedup in major stores on the East Coast like Macy’s, Hecht’s and Filene’s, Ms. Bradshaw saidtoday. Spokesmen for several companies said today that they had no knowledge that laws were being broken.Jim Abrams, a spokesman for May Department Stores, owner of both Filene’s and Hecht’s, said,“Our purchase orders clearly require vendors to comply with the Labor Standards Act and allapplicable regulations.”He added, “We are in the process of attempting to ascertain if in fact this incident in El Monteinvolves merchandise being manufactured for delivery to any May division and, if so, the vendor involved.”Carol Sanger, a spokeswoman for Federated Department Stores, the owner of Macy’s, said: “Thefirst we heard about it was what we read in the paper this morning. And we have tried to get in

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