WASHINGTON--Labor Secretary Robert Reich said Friday the nation's garment industry contractors are still receiving a failing grade in labor law compliance, a battle cry he's using to fight the proposed slashing in Congress of Labor's enforcement budget and to further enlist industry help in monitoring sewing shops.
To bolster Reich's argument, Labor officials Friday released preliminary findings of garment enforcement sweeps last week in Los Angeles and Dallas. Also cited were results of a sweep in New York's Chinatown in October.
"The abuse of human beings remains at a shockingly high level in the Southern California garment industry and throughout the country," Reich said in a statement. "This nation will simply no longer stand by while unscrupulous operators steal wages from the most vulnerable of workers."
In the joint state-federal garment industry sweep in California's Orange County, only three of 13 shops investigated were found to be paying their workers according to federal minimum wage and overtime laws. In one of these cases, an embroidery contractor, Hi-Tech Expressions, located in an Irvine industrial park, was found to have locked its nighttime shift employees inside the sewing shop, a fire code violation. The owner of Hi-Tech, Eunchang Lee, could not be reached for comment.
In Dallas, preliminary sweep results found all nine sewing shops investigated had wage violations, according to the agency, which also reiterated results of an October sweep in New York's Chinatown, during which 18 of 32 shops raided had violations.
The Labor Department is facing a 15 percent budget cut by Congress, which Reich has said will hamper his agency's already tight enforcement resources. If its budget is reduced, the agency plans to shoulder the cut through one-month furloughs of its workers. Reich is scheduled to carry this message Wednesday to Capitol Hill, where he will testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
While reflecting on his agency's financial constraints, Reich on Friday also took the opportunity again to urge the nation's apparel and retail industries to do more to see that the nation's apparel contractors are monitored for labor law compliance. This has been Reich's campaign since last August when a sweatshop in El Monte, Calif., was discovered to be holding workers in peonage to sew brand-name apparel. His pleas have received mixed response from the industries.
"If government is forced to do less to protect the wages and rights of working Americans, then the private sector must do more," Reich said in his statement. "The industry is literally racking up billions of dollars in sales and turning its back on the workers who produce these garments. Retailers, manufacturers and contractors must do more."

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