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12E.4.7 Tip Letter

This map and letter was sent by the boyfriend of an escaped sweatshop worker. The letter outlines the security measures enacted by the El Monte garment shop, and pleads for swift action. Acting on the tip, investigators from the California Department of Industrial Relations staked out the apartment complex and gathered enough information to obtain a search warrant. On August 2, 1995, authorities raided the site. The working and living conditions they found horrified even these seasoned professionals. Police arrested eight operators of the clandestine El Monte garment shop and freed seventy-two Thai nationals who had been working in a form of modern slavery. Workers, recruited in Thailand, were promised good pay and good working conditions. After signing an indenture agreement for $5,000 they were smuggled into the United States with fraudulent documents. The workers were paid about $1.60 an hour with sixteen-hour workdays in horrifying conditions. They were held against their will in a razor wire enclosed complex with an armed guard and were jammed into close living quarters. By 1999, eleven companies Mervyn's, Montgomery Ward, Tomato, Bum International, L.F. Sportswear, Millers Outpost, Balmara, Beniko, F-40 California, Ms. Tops, and Topson Downs, agreed to pay more than $3.7 million dollars to the 150 workers who labored in the El Monte sweatshop. As in most cases of sweatshop production, these companies contend that they did not knowingly contract with operators who were violating the law.

Tip Letter, Smithsonian Institution, Collection of the National Museum of American History.

This 1988 photo includes a number of people involved in the push to increase the minimum wage in the state of California. Aside from the Catholic priests seen in the black shirts, most of the people here belonged to unions. These union members campaigned for a long time through various means to secure this increase to the minimum wage. Why do you think priests would be involved in this movement? Why do you think that these people would come together to hold a community event in the Los Angeles garment district to inform the public of this increase in the minimum wage?
This public notice event followed on the heels of the passage of the new minimum wage law. Unions used marches, hearings, and other organized events to successfully push for this increase. The California Labor Federation of the AFL-CIO (the statewide federation of unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO) provided support and motivation for these events. In California, there are two key ways to increase the minimum wage: (1) by statute and (2) by statewide initiative. By providing a public notice event in the Los Angeles garment district, the people in this photo were helping ensure that employers understand the law, and that workers understand that they should expect $4.25 an hour. When laborers are willing to work for less than the minimum wage, they can make it more difficult to compel employers to honor the minimum wage.

[street grid alongside 10 FWY, labeled with street names and North and South]
[drawing of two palm trees and red apartment block with blue square mark and green fence surrounding on two sides]
Some time they are jump out this or move out from hear [sic]
The APT on street Santa Anita from Garvey are about 100 F. Take a look two palm front of the APT
APT number is 2630, 2620, 2602, 2644 on the walk side
If you don’t see the number APT please looking at house number 2609 APT front of this house
[blue mark] = security 24 hours
[green mark] = I need more police around APT
[red mark] = APT a lot of worker inside

(Page 2)
Please be carefull [sic] this is apartment very dangerous
Please bring much more power
1, blue mark you can see security sit inside 24 hrs
2, Green mark I need much more police or more power around apartment because some time they are move out from back side
3, Red mark look like jail inside apartment
Please working faster Don’t take a look long time
He will be move out,
He had camera inside for looking 24 hrs.
Don’t forget to be carefull [sic]