Thousands of employees fight against exploitation in factories that are among the skyscrapers that symbolize the second most important city in the US.
Among the bright skyscrapers, popular restaurants and trendy nightclubs, downtown Los Angeles hides a dark secret.
At least 45,000 employees in the sewing industry work in deplorable conditions and receive payments that are far from meeting the minimum wage.
“The seamstresses are working in dangerous conditions in dirty factories with animals such as cockroaches and rats; and they also get paid less than the minimum wage, ”explains Alejandro Sánchez, member organizer of the Sewing Workers Center.
This institution has been fighting for the rights of seamstresses for more than 20 years.
At a white table in this help center there are two women sitting drinking tea, for fear of losing their job or having repercussions against them, they asked that their identity not be revealed and that is why we will call them Blanca and Rosa.
“I work in a machine that is a needle, we make clothes for women,” says Blanca, a 44-year-old mother from Veracruz, who has dedicated half of her life to this job. "I work more than 50 hours a week, Monday through Saturday, the salary per week is about $ 200, and when I do very well, it's very good $ 280."
The two women agree that they have days when they earn only $ 20 for a day that starts at 8:00 in the morning and ends at 6:00 in the afternoon.
When questioning them about whether they have filed a complaint with their superiors for the low salaries and health problems of the place, both agreed that it is an industry in which they take advantage of the need of people to work and where their rights are not respected humans.
"When you go to the office (to complain) they already have you in sight as problematic and the next you leave," says Rosa, originally from Guatemala and mother of three children.
Blanca and Rosa work in a place that employs about 45 seamstresses, who put their health at risk because of the plague of insects and rodents in the location.
“There are some employees who do not drink water to avoid going to the bathroom in the factory, because the bathroom is very dirty, it is a bathroom for many employees and they do not clean it,” explains Sánchez.
"If I leave a bottle of water in my workplace, because I forget it, the next day it is bitten by the mice and I get wet all the clothes (manufactured)," says Rosa.
The root of the problem
Daisy González, Principal Organizer of Members of the Sewing Workers Center, explains that the problem arises with the brands – some very popular – that buy the garments that these women make for a few cents.
"Here we focus a lot on brands, because we know that the problem starts from above," he says. “About three years ago we started a campaign against Ross's company, since we supported the seamstresses with their cases of wage theft and we saw many cases where people were producing for Ross, so we agreed with the Labor Department of The United States and they did a study to see where the problem began and they saw that it starts from above, because brands do not pay enough to design clothes and do not lower enough money to pay the minimum wage to workers. ”
A deal round
Initiating legal action against these employers is not easy, first because the workers are afraid of losing their only source of income and, in addition, the owners of these factories know how to avoid fulfilling their obligations to the workers.
"The brands when a worker is going to open a case to claim his salary have said that they are not to blame, that those who are to blame are the owners of the factories, they say‘ I bought a finished product, "says González.
In this way, popular clothing companies disclaim their responsibility, however, factories also find a way to avoid accusations.
“All sewing factories operate the same and if we put pressure on them overnight they can close, if workers start complaining a lot, they close and change their name or close and move to another place,” says Sánchez.
"If a worker files a claim with the labor commissioner, they often close the factory instead of appearing in the case, paying or reaching an agreement with the worker," Gonzalez adds.
Light at the end of path
The Center of Sewing Workers is a light of hope for the seamstresses, since their mission is to educate them and help them to know and defend their rights.
“We arrived at this center by a flyer and it has helped us to know our rights, that sewing workers have rights and has supported us to know more,” says Blanca.
The main objective of the Center of Sewing Workers is to seek a change that optimizes the working conditions of thousands of people and helps them to know their rights.
“We fight for these changes for sewing workers, we ask that the payment per piece be eliminated and start paying by the hour,” says Sánchez, who trusts that more seamstresses will approach the institution to ask for support.
“A lot of our work is that the laws are strong and that workers organize so that brands change their production system. The doors of the center are open and we need to have union to make changes ”, concludes González.
Sewing Workers Center
1250 S Los Angeles St. # 213, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Is good know that…
This institution teaches clinicians to seamstresses to know their labor rights and offer help to demand that employers comply with debts.
Sewing employees suffer work injustices in Los Angeles
It is the average salary that a seamstress receives for working about 54 hours per week