Seattle Workers to Get Up to $10,000 Each in Back Wages

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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.

What do you think of a $15 minimum wage? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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