Bill Announced In The Midst Of Reinvigorated U.S. Labor Movement
The U.S. Garment Industry Loses Out On Over $23 Billion Annually Due To China Imports;
The Global Fast Fashion Industry Is Expected To Grow By More Than 15% This Year, Prioritizing Profits Over an Already Overworked Workforce; Abuse In Garment Industry Disproportionately Shouldered By Women, People Of Color, And Immigrant Workers
Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced the re-introduction of her one-of-its-kind labor bill, the Fashioning Accountability and Building Real Institutional Change (FABRIC) Act. For far too long, garment workers have faced unsafe working conditions, wage theft, and piecework pay, which often prioritizes fast fashion over the safety of workers. Supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic and the popularization of the fast fashion business model have only exacerbated these ongoing issues, which are disproportionately shouldered by women, people of color, and immigrant workers. Gillibrand’s FABRIC Act would protect nearly 100,000 American garment workers and help revitalize the garment industry in the United States by improving working conditions and reforming the piece-rate pay scale. Women are leaders in the cut-and-sew apparel manufacturing industry, making up 67% of workers, and following heavy job losses for women during the pandemic, investing in these workers is crucial for the future of the industry. Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY-12) leads this legislation in the House of Representatives.
The FABRIC Act is centered around four main pillars:
- Combating subminimum wages by reforming piece-rate pay structures to ensure minimum wage as a floor with productivity incentives on top.
- Establishing new liability measures that compel major retailers to become allies in combating workplace violations.
- Introducing recordkeeping and transparency measures.
- Creating a Domestic Garment Manufacturing Support Program designed to revitalize the industry in the United States.
Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are original cosponsors of the FABRIC Act.
“American workers are making their voices heard across industries as a renewed labor movement makes its voice heard. For far too long, garment workers in the once-bustling American apparel manufacturing industry have been exploited and overlooked,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The popularization of the fast fashion business model has perpetuated abuse of an already underpaid and overworked workforce, promoting profits over people, overconsumption, and rampant wage theft. From designers to workers, women, people of color, and immigrants shoulder this burden. I’m reintroducing the FABRIC Act, a one-of-a-kind federal bill to thread the needle of protecting workers’ rights, putting an end to the misuse of piece-rate pay, and making historic investments in domestic garment manufacturing. Protecting the garment workforce
“As the Representative of New York’s storied Garment District, I’m proud to join Senator Gillibrand in introducing the FABRIC Act today, legislation that will advance historic protections for garment workers and revitalize fashion manufacturing in the United States,” said Congressman Jerrold Nadler. “With domestic fashion manufacturing having declined precipitously from its peak in 1973, the FABRIC Act is essential to bringing back these jobs from overseas while holding manufacturers accountable for labor violations that are far too common in the industry.”
“It is unconscionable in 2023 that the makers of our clothes do not make enough to feed their families. The FABRIC Act is a timely bill that would create jobs of dignity right here at home at a time when onshoring interest has gone up. The bill includes necessary investments to spur cleaner, greener manufacturing in the United States.” – Ayesha Barenblat, CEO, Remake
“The FABRIC Act is so exciting because at its heart are protections for workers’ hard-earned wages, protections we recently gained in California. To see these safeguards go nationwide — and have incentives to encourage manufacturing in the US — would be life-changing for so many workers and the industry as a whole.” – Marissa Nuncio, Director, Garment Worker Center
“I am a garment worker who has worked for more than 20 years in this industry…Joining forces and voices, we made history by implementing SB62 into California law, and now we want the same justice extended for all garment workers in all 50 states! We want justice for the workers in the garment industry. Because it is a worker’s right to earn a fair wage. The FABRIC Act would make earning a living wage a possibility for workers across America.” – Cris, garment worker in Los Angeles, California
“I’m asking you for your support for the FABRIC Act. Los Angeles garment workers like myself organized to pass the law SB62 in California in 2022. This law guarantees me a minimum and fair wage in my work. The purpose of the FABRIC Act is to extend these protections to garment workers in every state. It would also hold brands accountable and demand that they comply with the law. This legislation would also help American garment businesses through incentives to help keep and grow US manufacturing.” – Delia, garment worker in Los Angeles
“I have been working in the garment industry for 20 years. I’m here to ask for your support of the FABRIC Act, a federal version of “The Garment Worker Protection Act” (SB62), which was legislation passed here in California which is now benefiting garment workers throughout the state. I now receive hourly pay with 15 minute breaks and 30 minute lunch breaks. The FABRIC Act would put an end to piece rate work in American garment factories and protect garment workers, small companies, and set a standard for wages. It would stop exploitation for workers throughout the United States of America. The future will be a better future for all of us and our families.” – Francisco, garment worker in Los Angeles
American garment workers face the second-highest rate of wage theft of any group of workers in the country. At its peak in April of 1973, the U.S. apparel production industry employed 1.4 million people. This number has steadily declined since. As of August 2023, only 91,200 Americans were employed in apparel manufacturing. Today, apparel imports from China to the United States are over 8 times higher than they were in the 1980s, and between 1995 and 2020, China gained an estimated 1.25 million jobs in apparel and apparel-adjacent manufacturing while the U.S. lost roughly 700,000 jobs. The U.S. garment industry now loses out on over $23 billion annually that is instead imported from China. To fix this, the FABRIC Act has dual goals: 1) protecting and improving working conditions for garment workers; and 2) rejuvenating the garment industry in the United States.
The FABRIC Act amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to create a historic new set of labor protections for workers in the garment industry designed to curb many of the abuses inherent to industry bad actors. Some of these protections include:
- Creating a new $50 million per year Domestic Garment Manufacturing Support Program administered by DOL to provide grants and technical assistance to help manufacturers address facilities and equipment costs, make safety improvements, and do training and workforce development.
- Prohibiting predatory payment-by-piece-rate compensation schemes as base pay where workers are not already paid minimum wage or covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Piece-rate pay enables bad actors in the garment industry to avoid paying workers a fair wage. The bill works to ensure manufacturers provide minimum wage as a pay floor with the option to pay piece rate above and beyond initial wages.
- Holding brands accountable for the labor practices of their manufacturing partners. This will help increase accountability in the garment industry and compel major retailers to become allies in combating workplace violations.
- Creating a new Undersecretary of Labor of the Garment Industry to oversee enforcement of these provisions as they apply to the industry.
- Creating a nationwide garment industry registry to ensure manufacturers and contractors operate according to these labor standards.
The FABRIC Act has garnered more than 200 endorsements. For the full list please click here.
This legislation has received technical assistance from the Department of Labor Wage & Hour Division and legal experts at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
To read more about the FABRIC Act, please click here.