Consequences of Feminization of Labor: in California

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woooo... dead end! oooh, orphan Globalization has increased the number of opportunities for expansion of the American market. As a result of this, feminization of labor, among many other ideas, was born. This concept led to the integration of women in the work force. With this thriving business also came horrible consequences for women and minorities. Among the most prominent of these negative consequences was the birth of sweatshops. As we all know, sweatshops are factories with employees that are underpaid and overworked. While many of these sweatshops are known to exist in developing countries, such as India and China, they are not missing in America.

Major Cities in America

Most sweatshops in America are harbored in large cities; the most protruding cases have been found in the state of California. These sweatshops are predominantly factories that produce apparel for other large name brand companies. One of the more older cases occurred on August 2, 1995, when state and government officials raided a sweatshop in El Monte, California.[1] In this building, 71 Thai workers, most of which were women and young girls, had been kept captive under terrible living and working conditions. For example, eight to ten of these workers were designated to one bedroom which was originally meant for only two people. Additionally, they had to endure unsanitary conditions. Rats would sometimes crawl upon them while they were sleeping. These Thai workers were kept captive for seven years and paid as little as $1.60 an hour.[2] Finally, the 71 Thai workers were surveilled by guards. These guards supervised their phone conversations, their letters, and more. They had to be stringent with their regulations in order to ensure that none of the workers would escape. Also, because the workers could not leave the building, they had to rely on their employers for everyday necessities, which were expensive. Many of these Thai workers left their land to find better opportunities in America, only to find worse conditions here. They could not stand up for themselves or their rights for fear of being sent back to their countries. Many of the workers that endured such harsh conditions were undocumented.

There have been more contemporary cases in California regarding sweatshops. Los Angeles, the capital of production for apparel, experienced another major case in 2001. This time one of the major brand companies was exposed: Forever 21. Forever 21, known for its relatively cheap and appealing clothing, had employees working under the minimum wage, which at the time was $7.25 an hour.[3] The company was sued by the "Asian Pacific American Legal Center which represented 19 Latino garment workers". They sued for "unpaid wages and retaliatory firings" and won.[4] This news went viral as a documentary surrounding the case was produced. It was titled "Made in L.A.". It was the story of three immigrant female workers, Lupe, Maria, and Maura, who had to endure working for a sweatshop to make ends meet. This was a way of putting a face on the issue. This documentary showed their struggle. In a clip of the movie, one for the female workers states, "they tell us that there are a lot of job opportunities in America, and there are, but they are the jobs that no one else wants to do".[5] She tells us that the jobs are strenuous. A second female worker later told us that one day she came into work, received almost no compensation for her work when she received her check, and later got fired. After that, she said, "no more".[6] It is cases like this, that show the struggle that not only women, but women of color, have to face. While Forever 21 has moved most of its sweatshops to Africa, 20-30 percent still exist in Los Angeles.[7]

This event that occurred in 2001 with Forever 21 is not the last of the cases. We still have sweatshops in California to this very today. Wage theft is a phenomena that is very much alive. Recent news articles tell readers that California, home to many immigrants, still underpays its workers. Immigrants are taken advantage of simply because they are undocumented. Employers are more likely to hire immigrant workers because they need the money, therefore, they will do the job. Legal workers would not tolerate these working conditions or being underpaid. Moreover, a recent article, Sweatshops in California Guilty of wage theft, that was uploaded on January 2, 2015, reaffirms the notion that sweatshops still exist! The article states, that "according to the Department of Labor there were 239 [wage theft] investigations in 2013, with 90 percent in Southern California". This just goes to show how big of an enterprise the garment industry is within California. Additionally, an article, California Sweatshops Owe Workers 3 Million, published on November 18, 2014, declares that "although minimum wage in California is $9 per hour, the report found that some sewing workers were earning nine cents per piece of clothing stitched".[8] In order for workers to make $9 per hour then, workers would have to stitch 100 pieces of clothing per hour. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The article also further states that a "department found that unpaid wages amounted to an average of $1,900 per worker"; money that could have helped these immigrants pay their rent or buy more food.[9] These articles are only one to two years old. This is a current, global issue. California has been one of the cities most renowned for having sweatshops. While conditions have improved and sweatshops have decreased in the Golden state, sweatshops still exist.

However, Los Angeles is not the only city in America that has sweatshops. In Making Sweatshops: The Globalization of the U.S. Apparel Industry, the author tells us that sweatshops in America are mostly located in California, New York, and Texas; three major states in America. Sweatshops are not just a third world country practice, America is proof of that. With that being said, similar hazardous working conditions have also been noted to take place in New York City. A major case was exposed in the year of 1911 when a triangle shirt waist factory caught on fire. The building had only one stairwell and a broken elevator.[10] Workers, once again predominantly female, had to jump stories in order to survive. The fire killed 125 workers, either from burns or from having to jump from such heights. The author of "Making Sweatshops", even went on to question the character of our country. She told us that America seeks to "expand global production at the expense of poor countries and poor people".[11]

Another case was documented in November 1998. New York had an influx of Chinese immigrants during this time. In Slaves of New York, Edward Barnes tells us that Chinese immigrants came for one of two reasons: "first because of the collapse of labor-law enforcement" and second because of New York’s "frantic attempt to remain competitive with Third World rivals". In order to stay at a competitive level cities like New York City and Los Angeles had to cut production costs. In developing countries, such as China and India, sweatshops are of great majority. Poverty runs high in these countries. Children in developing countries often leave school to look for work and are recruited by these sweatshops. Consequently, children who are underage are hired in order to meet their production deadlines. In today's world it is all about making profit, even if it is at the expense of your workers. Sweatshops are not only a financial issue but a health issue as well. Working conditions and harassment from their employers cause immigrants to become depressed. Mr. Barnes tells us, "mental illness and suicide have both become serious problems". Immigrant workers are being victimized. However, as mentioned previously, these workers are undocumented and cannot stand up for themselves for fear of deportation. In the aforementioned article, one of them said, "We have no one to protect us. There is nothing we can do. We may as well be slaves".[12] In a sense, immigrant workers lived up to that metaphor; they were slaves to the system.

Pressure from the top

Many people wonder why the companies who hire these immigrant workers underpay and overwork them. According to Organizing Immigrant Women in America’s Sweatshops, "workers endure ten to twelve hour days, six days a week", without being paid overtime.[13] They also aren’t allowed to talk to each other during work or to go to the bathroom without asking for permission first. Nonetheless, while the sweatshops are the ones who enforce the conditions under which immigrant employees work, they also receive pressure from their bosses. According to the article, Organizing Immigrant Women in America’s Sweatshops, the garment industry works in a very structured manner. Retailers are at the top, next are manufacturers, then you have factory owners, and finally you have the illegal immigrant workers, two-thirds of which are women.[14] Further, retailers put pressure on the manufactures to produce the garments at very low prices. Manufacturers then get factory owners to do the job. Nonetheless, factory owners want to obtain a profit too, therefore, they try to underpay their workers and "squeeze" some money out of them. In this way, everyone makes a profit.

Conclusion

The consequences of feminization of labor are a contemporary issue seen not only in third world countries, but in dominant countries such as America as well. This issue while not new is still presiding and it targets female immigrant workers.

References

  1. (Asian and Latino Immigrants in a Restructuring Economy, 21)
  2. (Barnes, 2)
  3. (Lo, 1)
  4. (Lo, 2)
  5. (Semilla Verde Productions, 1)
  6. (Semilla Verde Productions, 2)
  7. (Lo, 3)
  8. (Milligan, 1)
  9. (Milligan, 2)
  10. (Rosen, 1)
  11. (Rosen, 2)
  12. (Barnes, 4)
  13. (Sullivan-Lee, 528)
  14. (Sullivan-Lee, 529)


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