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Some clothing workers in Los Angeles earn as little as $1.58 an hour, Labor Department finds

Fashionistas who buy garments labeled "Made in USA" may be unwittingly contributing to workers' wage theft, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Labor.

A random sweep of 50 garment manufacturers in Los Angeles found that 80% were breaking wage and hour laws, regulators said. The agency also found that 64% didn't keep accurate time and pay records, while more than half either paid workers off the books or falsified or didn't provide such information. 

More than half the contractors paid workers off the books and either falsified time and pay records or didn't provide them, according to the agency. 

The contractors made clothing for major national brands including Dillard's, Lulus, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Socialite, Stitch Fix and Von Maur, the Labor Department said.

About one-third of the apparel makers paid their workers according to how many items they produced, instead of an hourly rate — something California explicitly outlawed more than a year ago. Paying workers a "piece rate" often leads to sub-minimum wages. One contractor paid workers $1.58 per hour, the agency's investigation found.

Nordstrom said it fixed the issue with its supplier soon after it was notified of pay violations. The company said in a statement it was "committed to supporting the health, safety and human rights of everyone in our value chain, and we expect all Nordstrom suppliers to adhere to the standards outlined in our Partner Code of Conduct in addition to applicable laws and regulations."

Dillard's, Lulus, Neiman Marcus, Socialite, Stitch Fix and Von Maur did not respond to requests for comment.

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Sweatshops "Made in the USA"

"We continue to see people who make clothes sold by some of the nation's leading retailers working in sweatshops," Ruben Rosalez, a regional administrator for the Labor Department, said in a statement. 

"Many people shopping for clothes in stores and online are likely unaware that the 'Made in the USA' merchandise they're buying was, in fact, made by people earning far less than the U.S. law requires."

Los Angeles is a major hub for the U.S. clothing industry — more than 80% of U.S.-made garments are manufactured in the area, according to the Garment Worker Center, an advocacy group. The roughly 40,000 workers in these jobs are overwhelmingly female, and most are immigrants from Mexico and Central America. 

Rock-bottom clothing prices are one of the reasons for workers' exploitation, the Labor Department suggested. Its review found that fashion labels and retailers, which hire subcontractors to manufacture clothing sold under their label, often don't pay enough for the garment workers to earn minimum wage. 

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