IR # 96-11
Friday, March 8, 1996

Louis Bonsignore
(415) 972-8835

Workers Held In Illegal El Monte Sweatshop Receive Payment of Unpaid Wages

LOS ANGELES--In a case that shocked both the apparel industry and the nation last summer, the California Department of Industrial Relations today distributed $1.1 million in back wages owed to 109 workers, 72 of whom had been held as virtual slaves inside an El Monte apartment complex last summer.

The money comes mostly from assets seized during a pre-dawn raid on August 2 from the operators of an illegal garment manufacturing ring. Many of the workers inside the apartment complex told authorities they had been held against their will for up to seven years.

"This has been the most notable and one of the most complex cases we have ever undertaken," said Lloyd W. Aubry, Jr., director of the Department of Industrial Relations. "When the California Labor Commissioner exposed this operation last summer - and as elements of the case began to unfold - the entire nation watched in disbelief that it could have happened at all."

"Today we are pleased to be able to fulfill our statutory obligation and issue checks for unpaid wages to the employees who were denied their right to federal and state mandated minimum wages and overtime for so long," Aubry said. "However it is obvious that in a case as tragic and egregious as this, there can be no real winners."

A total of $1,085,521.09 was obtained from the owners of the El Monte operation and seven other garment manufacturers held jointly liable for unpaid wages. Of this amount, $861,075.80 came from U. S. and foreign currency confiscated from operators of the El Monte site; $10,945.29 in interest paid on the confiscated currency; and $213,500 from garment manufacturers who had contracted with the operators. These manufacturers are Ms. Tops of California Inc.; Topson Downs of California, Inc.; F-40 of California, Inc.; Balmara; Beniko; L&F; and Tomato Inc.

In all, 109 former employees of the business which operated in three locations in Los Angeles County are sharing in the $1.1 million unpaid wage transaction, with amounts for each employee ranging from as much as $37,488 down to $64 for some employees of the downtown Los Angeles manufacturing facility.

The amount each employee receives is calculated by determining the actual amount owed to each employee as a percentage of the actual amount owed to all workers. Each employee will then receive that percentage of the amount available for disbursement. In this case, the total wages due all employees has been calculated at $9,560,196.55. However available assets from the operators which can be converted to unpaid wages and the liability of others who contracted with the establishment are limited to $1,085,021.09

The discovery of the illegal operation was made in a multi-agency pre-dawn raid led by the California Labor Commissioner on August 2, 1995. The operators of the facility, in addition to facing state labor law violations, have been in federal custody and recently pled guilty to a number of criminal charges including conspiracy, indentured servitude, and harboring illegal immigrants.


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