Help us build an even stronger worker movement in 2021

In this challenging year, your support has helped us respond to this crisis, win new workers’ rights, and continue building worker power.

>>>Will you renew your support in the new year & help us build an even stronger worker movement in 2021?

The economic and public health crisis has hit workers hard. More than a million people across WA lost work, and hundreds of thousands are still unemployed. Workers in essential industries have often faced additional risks without adequate safety equipment or access to paid sick leave. 2.2 million people in Washington are struggling to buy groceries & make ends meet. And the crisis is deepening racial inequities: people of color are far more likely to be classified as essential and unable to work from home, are more likely to have lost work, and are less likely to collect unemployment benefits after losing work.

In response, we shifted our priorities to address the urgent needs revealed by this crisis. We helped launch the push for a moratorium on evictions and utilities shut-offs to prevent thousands from losing access to running water or even losing their homes. We’ve held dozens of COVID health & safety trainings to help workers understand and enforce their rights. And we helped pass Seattle’s new Jumpstart tax, requiring the biggest companies paying the highest salaries to pay a small tax to fund relief programs like affordable housing and grocery vouchers.

Here are 11 victories we accomplished together this year:

  • We helped lead the coalition that won a $40 million fund for undocumented immigrant workers, who are excluded from federal relief programs and unemployment insurance, and we’ve worked to get that money out the door and into the hands of 38,000 people across the state. But we know one-time cash assistance isn’t enough: that’s why we’re now fighting to create an emergency program that provides undocumented workers who have lost work with weekly income support for a length of time similar to unemployment insurance.
  • Workers across industries organized to strengthen health & safety measures. Restaurant workers wrote an open letter calling on state leaders to prioritize worker safety, provide direct relief to workers, and fix our state’s unemployment system. Strippers led the new Adult Entertainment Advisory Committee, which submitted safety policy recommendations to the state legislature in November. And domestic workers are laying the groundwork to expand access to paid sick time.
  • We launched two new industry-specific Know Your Rights training programs in Yakima and at SEA Airport in SeaTac, which are developing dozens of worker leaders who are experts on their rights and trusted sources for this information in their workplaces.
  • Our legal clinic helped workers recover nearly $150,000 in stolen wages during the pandemic and conducted hundreds of legal consultations with workers. We did policy research to help develop a proposal for an income support system for undocumented workers. We launched a new partnership with the WAISN hotline to connect even more immigrant workers throughout the state with free legal advice. And our team filed two lawsuits against restaurants to make sure workers are paid the money they’re owed.
All these accomplishments take resources. Many of us are struggling to pay rent this month, but if you’re able to chip in a monthly contribution of just $5, $10, or $15, it’ll go a long way to winning even more victories and leading a just recovery in 2021.

Our movement is building momentum. We have a strong track record of winning, and big plans to make sure we keep that up in 2021. But we’re up against wealthy corporations who are spending tons of money to push their same agenda of more for them and less for the rest of us. We’ll keep fighting back—and we need your help to do that.

Click here to renew your support for Fair Work Center. Even $5 makes a big difference and helps us build strength for the long haul.

In solidarity & gratitude,

—All of us at Fair Work Center

A Potent Pairing: Wine & Wage Theft at Tandem Wine & Cheese Bar

Tandem Wine and Cheese Bar was promoted as a chic, relaxed, farm-to-table restaurant, with an eclectic decor and an outdoor patio in the heart of Woodinville’s wineries. It opened in Woodinville in 2010 and operated for a decade until closing abruptly in June 2019. Tandem had its devoted regulars: “It was almost like Cheers with some customers,” says one former employee. But for staff, working there was another story.

In a complaint filed in King County Superior Court, five former Tandem workers describe a widespread and long standing pattern of wage theft at the restaurant. They allege that they are still waiting to receive thousands of dollars in unpaid wages more than a year after Tandem closed. Now, represented by Fair Work Center, these workers have come together to recover their unpaid wages and raise awareness about wage theft in the restaurant industry. 

Paychecks came at unpredictable intervals, were frequently short hundreds of dollars, and often bounced when employees attempted to cash them. When plaintiffs confronted Tandem about money missing from their checks, they were met with excuses and delays.

“Rampant wage theft in the restaurant industry is a well-known problem. Stories like our clients’ are all too common, and the pressure to stay employed often forces many workers to put up with violations of their rights,” said Danielle Alvarado, Legal Director at Fair Work Center. “This case will make sure these workers are paid, and it will send a message to employers across Washington: you will be held accountable if you’re choosing not to comply with our state’s wage theft laws.”

Missing tips and bounced paychecks

“It was exhausting to chase down paychecks because I was in school 7 days a week at the time — and then committing my time at Tandem on top of that to pay bills and help pay for school. It was money that I was really relying on. I was exhausted because I had to put in all this extra time and effort just to get paid.” —Savannah, plaintiff

The plaintiffs in this case knew they were not getting all their tips. Often, tips were totally missing from their paychecks. And even when tips were supposedly included, Tandem didn’t issue pay stubs. Without pay stubs, earnings and tips can be easily obscured, which is why Washington State requires employers to provide them to workers. 

Employees were forced to do their best to keep their own records to ensure they got paid all their wages. On top of that, employees were never sure when they could expect their next paycheck. State law requires employers to pay their employees at regular, predictable intervals, but that almost never happened at Tandem.

Savannah started working at Tandem as a server in 2018. Weeks went by, but she was never paid for her work. She asked for her paycheck and explained that without pay, she was struggling to pay her mounting bills. Instead of an explanation or a check, management stalled, offering only excuses. Left with little choice, Savannah was forced to take out a loan to pay her rent and college tuition bill. 

“It was so stressful when Tandem didn’t pay me. I had to take out this last-minute student loan, and it was a private loan with higher interest rates. I was desperate at the time — I hadn’t planned for that at all.”   —Savannah, plaintiff

When Tandem did distribute paychecks, workers report that checks often bounced at the bank. The checks were already weeks late, and the amounts were short hundreds of dollars. And now, when employees went to the bank to actually get their long-awaited money? The bank would tell them the check didn’t clear. They still weren’t getting paid. 

Tackling wage theft

Wage theft is all too common, especially in the restaurant industry, and studies show that it’s likely on the rise during this pandemic. It’s more urgent now than ever that workers have access to effective tools to get promptly back the money they’re owed.

Workers need more tools to hold their employers accountable when they’re not getting paid what they’re owed. That’s why Fair Work Center & Working Washington are working to pass the Washington Wage Recovery Act. 

The bill allows workers to put a temporary hold on known employer assets as soon as wage theft happens — the best possible time to secure those assets. Because rent, food, and car payments don’t take a holiday, workers can’t afford to wait years to recover their wages. The temporary hold on assets — also called a “lien” — has been used very effectively by unpaid or underpaid farmworkers and construction workers in Washington for years. It’s time that other workers be included in this effective solution to get paid. 

The Washington Wage Recovery Act would help workers experiencing wage theft get paid before their bills come due, so that they’re not forced to take their employer to court more than a year after their wages were stolen.