WASHINGTON — The California Labor Commissioner’s office will dip into its emergency funds Wednesday to pay 239 former employees of the San Francisco-based Wins of California factories a total of $869,000 in back wages, a spokesman said Thursday.
It’s the latest twist in a complex sweatshop case in San Francisco that includes state and federal labor investigators, labor rights and advocacy groups, the factory owners, creditors and a court-appointed bankruptcy appointee.
At the center of the case are Jimmy Quan, Jenny Wong and Anna Wong, who owned and operated four factories — Wins of California, Win Fashion and Win Industries in America — in San Francisco, and funneled the clothes through Tomi Inc. in Utah, according to the spokesman for the state Labor office.
Wins produced clothes for such retailers as Sears, Kmart, J.C. Penney, Bebe, Wal-Mart and the U.S. Army and Air Force Exchange, the spokesman said.
Labor officials will draw from the state’s Garment Workers Fund, which is funded by a portion of garment licensing and registration fees and is used to pay employees back wages when their employers do not have available funds.
State officials will pay out checks ranging from $250 to more than $10,000 to employees Wednesday at the labor commissioner’s office. The spokesman also said officials will have to replenish the borrowed funds and there are plans to draw from a $2.1 million lien the state has on the employers’ assets.
The plight of the workers first made headlines in San Francisco in August 2001, and it has been carried on by labor rights group Sweatshop Watch and the Chinese Progressive Association. The groups had turned up the pressure on the U.S. Department of Labor in the past few months, claiming Labor Secretary Elaine Chao reneged on promises to expedite payments to the workers.
State and federal investigators initiated an investigation of Wins in July. A number of state and federal actions were filed against the company, which subsequently filed for bankruptcy and is no longer in business, according to the state Labor spokesman.
It is still unclear what will happen to an escrow account of $420,000 federal investigators collected from the Wins employers, which was at the heart of the labor rights and advocacy group’s complaints. The escrow account has been tied up in litigation in federal court as Wins’ creditors attempt to lay claim to the money.