On March 8, I conducted a ceremony in Los Angeles to distribute checks to some of the Thai garment workers who had been freed from virtual slavery by the State Labor Commissioner's raid on the El Monte sweatshop last August.
It was a particularly moving ceremony-many workers did not wish to attend because of their fear of retaliation toward either themselves or their relatives in Thailand. Those who did attend requested that their faces not be shown on television, for similar reasons.
As has been reported, many of these workers were forced to work nearly around the clock and received less than $2 an hour with no overtime. Accordingly, some of the checks that were distributed exceeded $30,000. From funds seized in the raid, as well as monies from settlements with other garment contractors found jointly liable for the violations, we distributed $1.1 million to the Thai workers.
Most moving was the moment when the checks were actually handed to the workers. As we stepped in front of each worker, he or she would bow with hands in prayer position, a traditional Thai custom, before accepting the check. No one will ever forget the horrors of what these workers had been through, even as they sat quietly and with such dignity.
It was also a telling reminder of the necessity for the Labor Code's directive to concentrate enforcement resources in "industries... in which employees are relatively low paid... ." DIR is committed to doing so, and the Governor's 1996-97 budget requests additional resources for garment industry enforcement. These resources have already been approved and augmented by a Senate budget subcommittee.
With the Governor, DIR and the Legislature working together, we can ensure that ceremonies like the one I have described will not be necessary in the future.