Escalating an ongoing crackdown on Orange County sweatshops, state labor officials have levied nearly $50,000 in fines against at least 21 employers in Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Westminster.
The citations were issued Thursday by 26 investigators from the state's Division of Labor Standards Enforcement and from two investigators from Cal/OSHA. The officials raided 55 shops, including one where a family of four was living, Division Chief Roger Miller said.
A total of 21 firms were cited for record-keeping violations, three for minimum-wage violations and five for child-labor violations. The Cal/OSHA inspectors cited eight firms for various regulatory violations.
In addition, Miller said, "Some of the buildings we found were exceptionally cold. Evidently, they put up cement slabs, steel sidings and stuff without any heating and air conditioning.
"That's a violation of the state law, which we will be investigating further."
A Vietnamese family of four was found living in a small, cold warehouse, he said. Sewing machines were stacked on the side, but the family members were not working, Miller added.
State involvement in the sweeps will make it easier for workers to obtain back wages due them, he said. Employers cited for violations must post a bond. The money can be tapped by workers who were wronged by a licensed contractor.
The sweeps resulted from continuing federal investigations into the garment industry in Orange County and articles published in The Times exposing sub-minimum wages and violation of child-labor laws, Miller said. "We had a concern the state should get involved in it."
Another state sweep is planned next month, he said, adding that it will be easier for the state to prosecute employers under criminal charges if they are cited more than once.
Most record-keeping and minimum-wage violations are misdemeanors punishable by fines and jail sentences. Usually, employers are cited under civil codes and ordered to pay back wages.
"It's difficult the first time," Miller said. "People allege they don't know the law. If you can show they are informed, you can get a conviction."