Reports

November, 15 2000 |  Share

Sewing Jeans for Kohls and other Major U.S. Retailers at Chentex/Nien Hsing International

Las Mercedes Free Trade Zone, Managua, Nicaragua

Summary

Hours-Average Workweek:
  • Six-day 54 ¼ workweek
  • 6 ¼ hours overtime
  • 60 hours a week at factory / Paid for 54¼ hours
  • Monday-Friday:7 am to 6 pm
  • Saturday 7 pm to noon
Average Wage at Chentex:
  • $28.75 for a 54 ¼-hour workweek, for a take-home wage of 53 cents an hour
  • 53 cents an hour
  • $5.30 /day (10-hour day)
  • $28.75 /week (6 day, 54 ¼ hour week)
  • $124.59 /month
  • $1,495.13 /yeear

 

Can you survive on 53 cents an hour?

  • If every cent of earnings were spent on food alone, even a small, 3-person, family could only afford to spend 46 cents each per meal.

Wages at Chentex

Can you live on 53 cents an hour?

Ask Kohl's and the other major retailers whose blue jeans are sewn at the Chentex factory in Nicaragua—

Fifty-three cents an hour

A review of dozens of Chentex paystubs reveals that the median hourly wage at Chentex is 53 cents an hour. (See the latest attached sample of 31 pay stubs collected between December 1999 and September 2000.)

Here's how the system works.

Every sewing operator at the Chentex factory is paid according to a piece rate system and not on an hourly wage basis. This is common in the apparel industry, forcing the sewers to work faster, since they get paid according to the number of pieces they complete in an hour. The median hourly piece rate earned in the factory was 37 ½ cents an hour, with the range varying between 16 and 75 cents an hour. However, overtime hours and premium pay, production incentives and two attendance bonuses add another 15.5 cents to the average hourly piece rate pay, bringing the average take home wage to 53 cents an hour. The range of hourly take-home pay varied from 31 to 92 cents.

In this sample, 68 percent of the sewers worked overtime, with the median number of overtime hours being 6 ¼ hours per week, bringing the average workweek to 54 ¼ hours. The range of overtime hours varied from one hour to 19 ½ hours a week, on top of the standard 48-hour workweek.

So, the typical workweek at Chentex would be a 6-day, 54 ¼-hour week. The workers would be at the factory 60 hours a week, while being paid for 54 ¼ hours.

Monday through Friday, the workshift would be from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., an 11-hour day with one hour off for lunch. Saturday's shift would be five hours, from 7:00 a.m. to noon, with no breaks.

So, the average wage at Chentex would be:

  • 53 cents an hour
  • $5.30 /day (10-hour day)
  • $28.75 /week (6 day, 54  ¼ hourweek)
  • $124.59 /month
  • $1,495.13 /year

Can you live on 53 cents an hour?

Kohl's and the other major U.S. retailers who contract production to the Chentex factory say yes, these are very good wages.

We can apply a very simple test to these wages. Do you think you could live on 46 cents a meal?

Even working the 6 ¼ hours overtime each week, a sewing operator would still earn just $28.75 for the entire 54 ¼-hour workweek. Suppose the operator is a single mother with two children. (It is estimated that 80 percent of the workers in the maquila assembly factories are women and nearly 50 percent of them are single mothers.) Her family of three people would be only half the size of the average six-person household in Nicaragua. Yet even if this woman allocated every single cent she earned to purchasing food, that would still leave her and her children with just $4.11 a day to eat on. ($28.75 ) 7 = $4.11), or just $1.37 each day. If they tried to eat three meals a day, this could spend 46 cents a meal. No one can live on that.

And, remember, that leaves out all other basic expenses such as housing, utilities (water, electricity, wood for cooking), clothing, healthcare, school, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses such as soap and toilet paper.

No wonder so many of the workers at Chentex are forced to raise their children on coffee, sugar water or corn gruel mixed with water, since they cannot afford milk or other foods important for basic nutrition. Simple vitamins for their children are out of reach.

 

This Woman Sewed Kohl's Jeans in June 2000

She earned 55 cents an hour

Like every other worker at the Chentex factory, this woman (whose identity has been hidden to protect her from retaliation) was a "specialist" assigned to one operation as the blue jeans flow down the production line. There are 38 operations or steps to sew a typical pair of jeans. In her case, her specialty was operation #26, which is sewing the hem on the bottom of the pant leg. She sewed 50 pieces an hour, one piece every 72 seconds, nonstop, hour after hour, day after day, repeating the same operation, the same hand and arm motions, 2,400 times a week. She was fast, so she earned a piece rate of 47 cents an hour, well above the average in the factory of 37 ½ cents. With the overtime hours included, along with the attendance bonus own as "7th Day" pay and other incentives this sewer earned $26.86 for the 49-hour workweek, or 55 cents an hour take home wage.

If a worker misses a day's work because she or her children are sick, she will lose the attendance bonus. If she does not make or exceed her daily production quota, she will lose her production incentives.

If this worker is a single mother with two children, even if she spends every single cent she earns on food alone — and remember, she is a fast worker, well above average — she still can spend only 43 cents per meal per person, which is hardly adequate. And, of course, this would leave out all other basic expenses necessary to survive.

 

 

 

 

 

How Pay Is Calculated

The workers at Chentex are paid every two weeks. This check covers a 15-day period from June 1 to June 15. During regular hours over the two weeks, she sewed 4,800 pant leg hems, for which she was paid 576 cordobas, or $44.65. (There are 12.9 cordobas to $1 U.S.) Here piece rate per hem was 0.12 cordobas, a little over 9/10ths of a cent. The style number on the left hand side, # 3065, can be traced to Kohl's through internal company documents--production schedules--which the workers smuggled out of the factory. Though actual overtime hours are not recorded you can arrive at the number of overtime hours worked by studying the piece rate.

This worker completed 4800 pieces in two weeks (in 96 hours--the normal work week of 48 hours times two). This comes to 50 pieces an hour. The 100 pieces completed during overtime would have taken two hours, or one hour per week.

In Latin America it is customary for workers to be paid for Sunday, their one day off. It is known as the Seventh Day's pay and functions as a sort of attendance bonus. For example, if a woman misses a day's work because she or her children are ill, she will lose not only that day's pay but also her Seventh Day, which means that she will be docked two days' wages for taking one sick day. The Seventh Day's pay can also be lost for being unable to work overtime hours, arriving late for work or displeasing your supervisor.

There are also other incentives for meeting daily production goals set by management, and a punctuality bonus for perfect on time arrival, which means arriving 15 minutes early and being at your sewing machine well before 7:00 a.m.

 

 

This Woman Sewed Cherokee Jeans in May 2000

--She earned 54 cents an hour--

Her specialties were operation #5, attaching the small front change pocket in Cherokee jeans, and #20, sewing the hem on the back pockets. She did 4,319 pieces a week, averaging 90 pieces an hour. This means that every 40 seconds, she completed sewing one of these operations. Her piece rate wages averaged 36 cents an hour, which was pretty much average for the factory.

However, she worked a little over two hours of overtime a week--which are paid at double the standard piece rate, and along with two attendance bonuses and her production incentive, she was able to earn $26.94 for the 50-hour workweek, 54 cents an hour.

If this woman headed a small three-person family, and if every cent she earned went to food--ignoring all other necessary expenses--her family could still only afford to spend only 43 cents per meal for each person, which is why these workers' children are forced to go without milk. It is simply too expensive given what they earn sewing blue jeans for the largest U.S. retailers.

 

 

 paystub

 

 

 

 

Sewing Jeans for Major U.S. Retailers

Earning 31 Cents an Hour

Working 19 ½ Hours Overtime a Week

in August 2000

This woman's specialty was operation #21, which means she attached back pockets to the jeans. She was able to sew 14 pockets an hour, completing one operation approximately every three minutes. She sewed 670 pieces a week to earn a piece rate wage of just 20 cents an hour.

However, she worked 19 ½ hours overtime a week, on top of the standard 48 hours bringing her work week up to 67 ½ hours. With all these overtime hours and the other incentives, she was able to earn $21.01 for working a 67 ½-hour week, for a take-home wage of just 31 cents an hour.

This means that the three person family we have used as an example--to be able to concretely judge the adequacy of the wages paid workers sewing jeans for the largest U.S. retailers at the Chentex factory--could afford to spend only 33 cents each per meal, even if the mother spent every single cent she earned on food, ignoring all other expenses.

 

 

pay stub

 

paystub

 

She Earned 39 Cents an Hour

$20.31 for a 52 ¾-hour Workweek

in June, 2000

This woman's specialty was also operation #21, attaching the back pockets on blue jeans. She attached 20 pockets an hour, or one every four minutes. For sewing 961 pockets a week, she earned a piece rate of 28 cents. However, she worked 4 ¾ hours overtime, bringing her workweek to 52 ¾ hours, for which she was paid $20.13, or just 39 cents an hour as a take home wage. This includes all overtime premiums, attendance bonuses and production incentives.

The most minimum survival diet for the average sized Nicaraguan family of six people is estimated at $103.56 a month, $23.90 a week. This would mean surviving on rice and beans, and precious little else. This measures the very bottom line needs of the very poor.

Still, even working 4 ¾ hours overtime for a 52 ¾ hour workweek, this woman's wages fall short, providing only 85 percent of what would be necessary to purchase even the most minimal diet for the family to survive.

And this still completely leaves out all other expenses.

 

 

 

 

63 ¾ hours to Earn $40.62

July 2000

This woman was faster than the others. She could attach 26 ½ jeans back pockets an hour, sewing a pocket every 2 1/3 minutes. She also worked 16 ¾ hours overtime a week, bringing her workweek to 6 days and 64 ¾ hours. Her piece rate wages averaged 37 cents an hour. But with all the overtime hours and the attendance and production bonuses, she was able to earn $40.62 for the 64 ¾-hour workweek, or 63 cents an hour take home pay.

This means that this hypothetical family of three could afford to spend 64 cents per person per meal, so long as they spent every single cent on food, excluding all other basic needs.

 

 

paystub

January 2000

  • Six-day, 50 ¾-hour workweek with 2 ¾ hours overtime.
  • Completed 1180 pieces a week, sewing 25 pieces an hour for a piece rate wage of 16 cents an hour.
  • Earned $18.41 for a 50 ¾-hour workweek, take home pay of 36 cents an hour.

 

 

 

 

March 2000

  • Six-day, 60-hour workweek with 12 hours of overtime.
  • Completed 3,134 sewing operations a week, over 65 pieces an hour, one every 55 seconds, to earn a piece rate wage of 60 cents an hour.
  • Earned $47.91 for a 60-hour workweek, or 80 cents an hour take home pay.

 

 

 

 

 

March 2000

  • Six-day, 57-hour workweek with 9 hours of overtime
  • Completed 1,000 pieces a week, 21 sewing operations an hour for a piece rate wage of 28 cents an hour.
  • Earned $21.20 for a 57-hour workweek, 37 cents an hour take home pay.

 

 

 

April 2000

  • Six-day, 50 ¾-hour workweek with 2 ¾ hours of overtime.
  • Completed 2,736 pieces a week, sewing 54 pieces an hour, one piece every 1 1/10th minutes.
  •  Earned $23.80 for a 50 ¾-hour workweek, or 47 cents an hour take home pay.

 

 

 

 

May 2000

  • 5 ½ day, 48-hour workweek.
  • Completed 13,859 pieces a week, 289 sewing operations per hour, or one operation every 12 ½ seconds to earn a piece rate wage of 51 cents an hour.
  • Earned $29.57 for a 48-hour workweek, or 62 cents an hour take home pay.

 

 

 

May 2000

  • 5 ½-day, 48-hour workweek
  • Completed 3,706 sewing operations a week, 77 pieces an hour, or one piece every 47 seconds to earn a piece rate wage of 44 cents an hour.
  • Earned $28.60 for a 48-hour workweek, or 60 cents an hour take home pay.

 

 

 

 

 

May 2000

 

  • 5 ½-day workweek.
  • Sewed 2075 pieces a week, 43 ¼ an hour, one operation every 83 seconds for an hourly piece rate wage of 48 cents.
  • Earned $25.62 for a 48-hour workweek, for take home pay of 53 cents an hour.

 

 

 

May 2000

  • Six-day, 66 ½-hour workweek, with 18 ½ hours of overtime.
  • Completed a sewing operation every 2 ¼ minutes for a piece rate of 36 cents an hour.
  • Earned $32.98 for the 66 ½-hour workweek, with 50 cents an hour take home pay.

 

 

 

 

 

May 2000


  • 5 ½-day, 48-hour workweek.
  • Sewed 1,505 pieces a week, over 31 an hour, or nearly one operation every two minutes for a piece rate wage of 50 cents an hour.
  • Earned $32.25 for a 48-hour workweek, 67 cents an hour take home pay

 

 

 

 

May 2000

  • 5 ½-day, 48-hour workweek
  • Completed 2,045 sewing operations a week, 43 pieces an hour, to earn a piece rate wage of 38 cents an hour.
  • earned $23.06 for a 48-hour workweek, for a take home wage of 48 cents an hour.

 

 

 

June 2000

  • Six-day, 52-hour workweek with 4 hours overtime.
  • Completed 17,716 sewing operations a week, 369 pieces an hour, or one piece every 10 seconds for a piece rate wage of 69 cents an hour.
  • Earned $42.67 for a 52-hour workweek, or 82 cents an hour take home pay.

 

 

June 2000

  • Six-day, 60 ½-hour workweek with 12 ½ hours overtime.
  • Completed 6,289 pieces a week, sewing 131 pieces an hour, or one operation each 27 seconds to earn a piece rate wage of 75 cents an hour.
  • Earned $55.54 for a 60 ½-hour workweek, for a take home pay of 92 cents an hour.

 

 

September 2000

  • Five-and-a-half-day, 48-hour workweek.
  • Completed a sewing operation every 41 seconds for an hourly piece rate wage of 37 cents.
  • Earned $20.31 for a 48-hour workweek, 42 cents an hour take home pay.

 

 

October 1999

  • Six-day, 54 ¼-hour workweek with 6 ½ hours overtime.
  • Earned $26.82 for a 54 ¼-hour workweek, for a take home wage of 49 cents an hour.

 



February 2000

 

  • Six-day, 61 ¾-hour workweek, including 13 ¾ hours overtime.
  • Earned $23.26 for a 61 ¾-hour workweek, or 38 cents an hour take home wage.

 

 

March 2000

  • Six-day, 58-hour workweek with 10 hours overtime.
  • Earned $21.01 for a 58-hour work week, or 36 cents an hour take home pay.

 

 

May 2000

  • Six-day, 56 ½-hour workweek including 8 ½ hours overtime.
  • Earned $25.23 for a 56 ½-hour workweek, or 45 cents an hour take home pay.

 

 

May 2000

  • Six-day, 52-hour workweek including 4 hours of overtime.
  • Earned $21.20 for a 52-hour workweek, or 41 cents an hour take home pay.

 

 

May 2000

 

  • Five-and-a-half-day workweek
  •  Earned $26.20 for a 48-hour workweek, for a take home wage of 55 cents an hour.

 

 

May 2000

  • Six-day, 52 ¼-hour workweek with 4 ¼ hours overtime.
  •  Earned $28.33 for a 52 ¼-hour workweek, a take home wage of 54 cents an hour.

 

 

 

May 2000

  • Five-and-a-half-day, 49-hour workweek with one hour overtime.
  • Earned $30.43 for a 49-hour workweek, a take home wage of 62 cents an hour.

 

 

May 2000

 

  • Six-day, 52 ½-hour workweek including 4 ½ hours overtime.
  • Earned $29.81 for a 52 ½-hour workweek, for a take home wage of 57 cents an hour.

 

May 2000

  • Five-and-a-half-day, 48-hour workweek.
  • Earned $19.30 for a 48-hour workweek, or 40 cents an hour take home wage.

 

 

May 2000

  • Five-and-a-half-day, 48-hour workweek.
  •  Earned $15.35 for a 48-hour workweek, a take home wage of 32 cents an hour.

May 2000

  • Six-day, 54 ½-hour workweek with 6 ½ hours overtime.
  • Earned $37.67 for a 54 ½-hour workweek, or 69 cents an hour take home wage.

 

 

May 2000

  • Five-and-a-half-day, 48-hour workweek.
  • Earned $38.57 for a 48-hour workweek, a take home wage of 80 cents an hour.