Episode 129 | THE GARMENT WORKER CENTER + ONE WOMAN'S STORY

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In episode 129, Kestrel welcomes Zacil Pech, the Health & Safety Organizer at The Garment Worker Center, as well as Blanca Hernandez, a member of The Garment Worker Center, to this week's show. A worker rights organization, The Garment Worker Center's mission is to organize low-wage garment workers in Los Angeles to fight for social and economic justice.

"I would often ask myself, but it was the fear of losing my job that kept me there. Anytime someone tried to speak up - especially in these type of garment shops - they always tell us if we don't like our job, then there's a lot more people that would be willing to do our job, so we are disposable."
- Doña Blanca Hernandez, a member of The Garment Worker Center + garment worker in Los Angeles (translated by Zacil Pech)


THE GARMENT WORKER CENTER

While on Conscious Chatter we often discuss human and environmental rights when it comes to the fashion industry, we rarely get the chance to hear directly from individuals working in garment factories. This is a powerful and important show, as we are able to hear from Doña Blanca about her personal experience working in the garment industry in Los Angeles for over 20 years. 

Throughout this show, Doña Blanca shares painful stories that highlight the way her rights have been denied over the years, through her work in the garment industry in Los Angeles. For example: Doña Blanca shares that she rarely get breaks for lunch or to go to the restroom, she generally can't drink water even though the factories are extremely hot because she can't use the restroom as often as needed, and sometimes there's only one restroom for 60-70 workers.

In Doña Blanca's case, she had to hold her pee for an extremely long time in a certain factory, which led her to have severe problems, including a urinary tract infection.

The below thoughts, ideas + organizations were brought up in this chat:

  • The Garment Worker Center was founded in 2001, and its origins are connected to the Thai garment worker slave case that happened in El Monte, CA, where dozens of garment workers were trafficked from Thailand and imprisoned in an apartment building that was made into a makeshift factory. 
  • "We say 'race to the bottom' prices because it's the piece rate. In Los Angeles, we have garment workers earning anywhere from 5 cents to the lowest I've seen is half a penny - whether it's stitching or per-piece clothing that they do. So, the ways that we organize garment workers is encouraging them to try and organize with other garment workers and organize for brands to stay accountable to the workers." -Zacil Pech
  • "They rob us of our wages, in terms that they pay us by the piece rate, and unfortunately the piece rate is an illusion. They tell us, 'yes - you might be able to earn even the minimum wage,' but even when we start working faster and harder to try and make the minimum wage, they cut our prices by the piece." - Doña Blanca
  • "Just to give you a bit of context, the price per piece in Los Angeles hasn't been raised in over about 33 years. We've seen that it has been steady even if the cost of living has been going up, minimum wage has been going up, the price per piece hasn't." -Zacil Pech
  • "What we're seeing right now [the piece rate] is anywhere from 3 to the most is about 7 cents. The lowest that I've seen in my time here is half a penny." -Zacil Pech
  • "For workers, we're seeing that the average is anywhere from $4-6 dollars [per day], which is way below the federal minimum wage - in Los Angeles, we're going to reach $15/hr by 2020. That gives you an estimate of just how stark the situation is within the garment industry." -Zacil Pech
  • "We also don't have the luxury of buying ourselves clothes. We don't have the luxury even of buying ourselves shoes. We don't have the luxury of going into a store and buying these garments. On the contrary, what we've learned to do is go to swap meets where they are selling used clothes for 50 cents, even a dollar, which are the things that we can afford." -Blanca Hernandez
  • When asked what she would like to say to the people to buy the clothes that she makes, Blanca said, "I would tell them the truth about how we live. I would tell them the truth about how we learned to survive. I would tell them the truth about how they steal our wages, and how they steal our health. I would tell them not to shop at these certain shops. I would tell them to boycott these stores. I wish they would listen and I wish they would understand our realities, but I know that I can't tell people how to live their life - but this is just my wish, that they would listen to us and support us."
  • GET INVOLVED with The Garment Worker Center


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