State labor investigators closed a downtown Los Angeles garment factory where 100 Thai immigrants were believed working for below-minimum wages and, in some cases, living on the premises, officials said Wednesday.
The factory, operating without a name at 2407 S. Grand Ave., was producing garments with J.C. Penney labels, officials said.
Investigators said Penney contracted with a downtown sportswear manufacturer, Monarch Knit and Sportswear. Investigators said Monarch told them it had in turn contracted with a reputable sewing factory, which subcontracted some of the Penney work to the alleged sweatshop.
Officials said they were unable to determine immediately who owns the factory but ordered it closed because the business was operating without proof of workers' compensation insurance.
Three vanloads of shirts were confiscated.
J.C. Penney would not be liable for any labor code violations, said investigators for the state Labor Standards Enforcement Division. They hope to identify the owner when the confiscated merchandise is claimed.
Roger Miller, manager of the division's southern field enforcement office, said the factory was unusual because of the large number of employees, the fact that they were all Thai immigrants and the presence of a stove, refrigerator and pots, indicating that some workers lived in the factory.
"You don't use that (cooking equipment) for breaks at lunch," Miller said.
A spokesman for Monarch Knit and Sportswear declined to discuss the state investigation, telling a reporter, "You're not the law and I don't have to talk to you."
Beatriz Nava, an official of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, said the investigation "shows again that conditions are growing worse in the garment industry--an industry without a conscience." The union is lobbying for pending state legislation that would make garment manufacturers accountable for labor law violations by the contractors they hire.
The investigation of the factory was the second unusual investigation by state officials in recent weeks. A City of Commerce garment factory, which has been inspected three times this year, is suspected of deliberately underpaying workers, including 16 imported Chinese who were found to be living in a single three-bedroom home owned by officials of the company.