In the 21st century, it would be nice to believe that our society has evolved to a point where employees are paid fairly for the work they perform. To most people, this means an hourly wage that meets or exceeds the state and federal minimum.
However, in some industries workers may be paid according to the "piecework" system. This allows an employer to pay a worker a certain amount for each unit he or she produces, not for each hour worked. In order to do this, garment contractors are required by state labor law to provide itemized statements to their employees.
Those statements must include the total number of hours worked by an employee, as well as a detailed accounting of each unit produced and the rate of pay for each unit. However, one Los Angeles garment producer was recently ordered to pay nearly $500,000 in back pay and penalties for failing to provide those statements and to pay proper overtime. The failure to provide workers with information about their hours and payment made it impossible for them to know that they weren't being paid properly.
A California Labor Commissioner compared the working conditions to a sweatshop. Even in a progressive state like California there are still workers - many of them immigrants in the garment industry - who are denied their basic employment rights.
Often, a piecework payment system is just a method to make employees work faster and faster, which may lead them to miss lunch or other breaks. Wal-Mart is currently facing similar lawsuits for unfair treatment of piecework-paid employees.
Source: Lawyers and Settlements, "Will Latest California Labor Law Citation Finally End Sweatshops?" April 18, 2013
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