That’s why they call them sweatshops — 43 percent of apparel and textile manufacturing workers surveyed in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago said they’d been cheated of the minimum wage they were expecting. The survey, released this week by the Center for Urban Economic Development, the National Employment Law Project and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, was funded by four foundations, Ford, Russell Sage, (which gave $327,924) Joyce and Haynes.
Women, no surprise, were far more likely to suffer minimum wage violations than men, with the worst affected — not surprisingly — illegal immigrants, who made up 39 percent of those surveyed, (31 percent were legal immigrants and 30 percent native-born Americans.) The typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of an average weekly wage of $339 — about a 15 percent loss in pay. African-Americans were three times more likely than whites to suffer a wage violation.
“We were all surprised by the high prevalence rate,” said professor Ruth Milkman, one of the study’s authors. Why? Maybe because she hasn’t ever, or likely for a long time, worked at the very bottom of the labor ladder. Anyone who’s worked a low-wage job knows you take it because you’re desperate and out of choices. When you’re desperate you’ll put up with whatever your employer wants just to keep that paycheck coming, whatever they chip out of it.
In 1999 and 2000, author Barbara Ehrenreich worked as a waitress in Key West, Fla., as a cleaning woman and a nursing home aide in Portland, Maine, and in a Wal-Mart in Minneapolis, Minn. She wrote about it,in “Nickeled and Dimed” offering a rare look inside a world most of us try to flee as soon as possible and pray we never see again.
Best of the bunch surveyed were residential construction — dinging workers only 13 percent — and home health care, at 12 percent. Tied for second-worst employers, with personal and repair services? Private households, aka nannies, maids and other domestic workers. Ripping off workers is sick, but cheating someone you’ve chosen to bring into your home or care for your kids? Nice example to set.
Has this ever happened to you?