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Feds say L.A. 'sweatshop' sweep finds widespread violations

Federal and state labor authorities Thursday announced the discovery of "widespread" labor violations by downtown garment manufacturers that help supply retailers like Aldo, Urban Outfitters and Forever 21, among others.

During an August sweep of a building at 830 S. Hill St., the U.S. Department of Labor and the California Labor Standards Enforcement division found that 10 garment businesses paid workers an average of $6.50 an hour, significantly below the federal standard of $7.25 an hour and the state minimum of $8 an hour. Workers weren't paid hourly but instead earned a small amount per garment sewn or cut.

Authorities also found evidence of falsified time cards, recordkeeping violations and a failure to pay overtime wages. And three of the businesses were not registered as garment contractors, authorities said.

"We are intent on making sure that sweatshop practices are eliminated so that consumers can proudly purchase garments made in L.A., honest companies can compete and garment workers can thrive,"  California Labor Commissioner Julie Su said in a release.

The garments were being produced for 30 retailers nationwide, including Aldo, Burlington Coat Factory, Charlotte Russe, Dillard’s, Forever 21, Home Shopping Network, Urban Outfitters and West Seal.

About $326,200 in back wages were recovered for 185 employees and each business was cited for failing to comply with wage laws. 

The sweep in August kicked off an ongoing federal crackdown on Southern California's garment industry. Department of Labor offices in the region have conducted more than 1,500 investigations of garment industry employers over the last five years. Investigators found that businesses underpaid about 11,000 workers by more than than $11 million total. 

Department of Labor spokeswoman Deanne Amaden said that regulators picked the building on Hill Street because it has been the site of several past labor violations. Some of the manufacturers were repeat offenders, Amaden said.

"There's small case after small case that we find all over the Los Angeles area. But we knew there were things going on in this building and we wanted to focus on that," Amaden said. 

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-- Frank Shyong

Follow Frank Shyong on Twitter.

 
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