Feds announce multi-year crackdown on labor violations in SoCal garment industry

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Federal labor officials say they're cracking down on sweatshop conditions in parts of Southern California's garment industry, in order to protect workers and educate employers.

This comes just one day after California Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su released the results of a slew of unannounced inspections conducted by the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) and the Department of Labor on L.A.'s garment district.

The inspections resulted in citations totaling $217,844 for "failure to carry workers' compensation and failure to obtain a garment license," according to a press release from the Labor Commission. Further audits will determine what wages are owed for minimum wage and overtime violations.

United States' Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis says that an "enforcement initiative" is being launched on Thursday to curb what she calls consistent and widespread violations of federal laws on minimum wage, overtime and record-keeping. The crackdown could reportedly last years.

Labor officials have conducted about 1,500 investigations in the region's garment industry over the past five years (including many in Los Angeles).

In 93 percent of those investigations, violations were uncovered and officials found that more than $11 million in back wages were owed to 11,000 workers.

Ilse Metchek, President of the California Fashion Association, spoke to the L.A. Weekly last month about sweatshop conditions in downtown L.A.'s garment district. There, she said that sweatshops were to the fashion industry what pornography was to entertainment:

"They have done a fabulous job of separating it from mainstream entertainment," Metchek said. "And that's what we have. We have a huge underground economy."

Investigators say garment workers are often paid by the piece they sew or cut, resulting in pay that is as low as $6 per hour. That's well below federal minimum wage of $7.25.

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