Seattle companies that ignored the city's new $15 minimum wage law are going to have to dig deep to make workers whole.
Several companies that provide hospitality or transportation services for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are learning that they need to follow the rules — in this case, a Seattle minimum wage law — or face the legal consequences.
The companies are being forced to fork over millions of dollars to settle back-pay lawsuits.
According to the Associated Press, the companies, which include airport staffing firms, hotels, rental car agencies and parking lots in SeaTac, chose to disregard Seattle’s $15-an-hour minimum wage law, which passed in 2014, and continued to pay their workers below that wage. Now they’re being ordered to hand over $12 million to settle back pay lawsuits.
The AP says:
“Many employers questioned the law’s validity and declined to immediately follow it. The state Supreme Court upheld the measure a year ago in a 5-4 ruling, and attorneys for the workers began filing lawsuits seeking back pay for the roughly two years that the companies failed to pay $15 an hour.”
The AP says Menzies Aviation, which provides ramp workers and baggage handlers for Alaska Airlines at SeaTac, has agreed to an $8.2 million settlement — the largest so far — which will provide compensation for 738 former and current workers. Menzies was allegedly paying most of those workers $12 an hour instead of $15. The workers will get about $10,000 each after attorneys’ fees.
Nicole Vallestero Keenan, who worked on the SeaTac minimum wage campaign and now is the executive director of the Seattle-based Fair Works Center, a nonprofit that works on enforcing labor laws, tells the AP:
“Whenever you pass a labor law, you need it to be enforced for it to be real for the workers. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck and you receive $10,000 in back wages that are owed to you, that can be an enormous factor in changing one’s life.”
Some of the companies involved in the back-pay lawsuits claimed that SeaTac’s ordinance should be overthrown because its conflicts with federal law, the AP reports. That’s an argument rejected by the Washington State Supreme Court.
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