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Apparel Raids Find Wage Compliance

November 09, 1996|DON LEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the first sweep of the Southland's garment industry since the federal minimum wage hike, an overwhelming majority of contractors were found to be paying their workers at the new rate.

Investigators had feared the new minimum wage, which went up last month to $4.75 from $4.25, would result in more labor abuses. But after a weeklong series of raids that ended Friday in Los Angeles and Orange counties, state and federal investigators cited just seven out of the 78 contractors for not paying the new wage.

"It's a pleasant surprise," said Rick Rice, a spokesman for the state Department of Industrial Relations. But he added, "Whether or not they can keep up with the next three phases remains to be seen."

This week's passage of Proposition 210 will boost the minimum wage in California to $5 per hour in March. The second phase of the federal increase will lift the rate to $5.15 in September, and, under Proposition 210, it will rise again in California to $5.75 in March 1998.

Some analysts expressed doubt that this week's raids provided an accurate gauge of the industry. In a random survey of 76 contractors last spring, officials found that 43% were not paying the minimum wage, then $4.25. The targets of this week's raids were not chosen randomly, so they may have included a number of previously inspected firms, who tend to have a higher compliance rate.

Still, Bernard Lax, president of the Coalition of the Apparel Industries in California, which represents manufacturers and contractors, said this week's findings suggest contractors are trying to comply.

But the upcoming wage increases, he said, will probably drive more garment contractors to Mexico.

"Who's going to absorb the difference between now and then?" Lax said. "Quite frankly, the consumer is not going to pick up the added expense."

Contractors raided this week did not fare as well with other labor or safety regulations. Out of the 78 inspections, 41 of which were conducted in Orange County and the remainder in Los Angeles, inspectors found 32 record-keeping violations and multiple firms that were unregistered or paid cash. Three firms allegedly employed an underage worker.

One contractor, Young's Fashion in Garden Grove, is alleged to have violated a number of labor laws, including not having workers' compensation insurance, employing an underage worker, and minimum wage and overtime infractions. That firm faces fines and back wages approaching $100,000, state and federal inspectors estimated. Owners of the shop could not be reached for comment.

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