CALIFORNIA CUTS LABOR LAW ENFORCEMENT FUNDS
Byline: Kristi Young / With contributions from Deirdre Mendoza
LOS ANGELES — As Gov. Gray Davis scaled back the budget increase for labor law enforcement from $5 million to $2 million in Sacramento Thursday, garment workers and labor law advocates gathered in Los Angeles to rally for more enforcement funding.
Davis signed a $103.3 billion budget that acknowledges the state’s softening fiscal strength, triggered in part by the burst of the Silicon Valley high-technology bubble, wielding his line-item veto to cut $554 million from the spending plan.
The labor enforcement budget now stands at $154 million — not enough, said critics, to fund state field investigators who keep an eye on some 160,000 workers.
Last year, 67 percent of registered garment contractors in Los Angeles had minimum wage and overtime law violations, according to a U.S. Labor Department survey. Davis’s cuts would mean the end of tools, such as a $500,000 central computer that tracks violators.
At the hearing in Los Angeles, much of the testimony involved the enforcement of controversial bill AB633. Up north, a proposal on how the Labor commissioner would enforce AB633 arrived at the state office of administrative law for review.
Garment workers who filed wage claims said they have gone uninvestigated. Those who have won cases complained they have not been paid back wages.
“Gov. Davis and the state Labor agencies must protect the rights of garment workers by holding manufacturers and retailers liable for their worker’s unpaid wages,” said Nikki Fortunato Bas, director of the Oakland-based advocacy group Sweatshop Watch.
The legislation provides a “wage guarantee” from contractors and manufacturers deemed responsible for minimum wages and overtime pay of workers who sew their clothes. In an earlier draft, the bill sought to hold retailers with private label manufacturing also responsible. But the final version lets retailers off the hook.
“They didn’t get joint liability,” said Bill Dombrowski, president of the California Retailers Association. “The definition [of who is a garment maker] is going to be determined by the individual company’s actions. This gives the advocates the ability to go into court and charge that retailers are manufacturers, but that’s always what they could do.”
As for the governor’s budget cuts, the Labor commissioner’s office conceded it is far behind in the number of inspectors they have in the field.
The Franchise Tax Board can accept claims, but according to a state representative at the hearing, there is one person there handling 7,000 claims.
In the final analysis, AB633 is not enforceable, concluded several people on all sides at the hearing.
Two public hearings on the final version of the bill are scheduled for Oct. 4 in San Francisco and Oct. 12 in Los Angeles.