September 23 is Nanny Day in Seattle!

Today, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle City Council, led by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, proclaimed September 23, 2019 to be Seattle Nanny Day. The proclamation comes as a part of National Nanny Recognition Week, a national effort to lift up and honor the work of nannies of the homes of millions of families across the country. While Seattle recently adopted a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, providing minimum wage and other basic standards to domestic workers in our city, most domestic workers around the country are excluded from federal labor standards.

“Thank you very much for giving nannies the recognition that our hard work deserves,” said Sandra Holten, nanny and member of the Seattle Nanny Collective. “Of course, we are proud to lead the way here in Seattle, but we ask you to join us to fight for the rights of domestic workers throughout the country.”

 

More than 2.5 million domestic workers across the country provide care to our children, our elders, our homes, and more. And yet nannies, housecleaners, and home care workers lack any protections under federal labor laws. So, in addition to recognizing and praising the work of nannies in Seattle, the Seattle Nanny Day Proclamation also calls for the passage of Congresswoman Jayapal’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act. This bill would ensure nannies and domestic workers around United States have the same protections and standards as those here in Seattle.

Seattle Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda presenting the Seattle Nanny Day Proclamation to members of the Seattle Nanny Collective.

 

City of Seattle Nanny Day Proclamation

How much is the rest of your time worth?

Washington is boldly proposing to restore overtime protections to hundreds of thousands of salaried workers across the state. This could well be the biggest advancement in standards for workers since raising the minimum wage and providing paid sick leave through Initiative 1433. 

Caregiver from Richland, WA testifying in favor of restoring OT

This week, the Washington Department of Labor & Industries held public hearings in Ellensburg, Tri-Cities, and Spokane, to hear from people around the state what restoring overtime pay would mean to them. Working Washington and Fair Work Center were represented in each of these hearings to support the proposal to bring back time and a half pay to salaried workers.

There hearing from workers like Lauren, E., and Alec, who shared their overtime stories with L&I and Working Washington.

Lauren

Lauren is a volunteer coordinator at a nonprofit organization. “I didn’t have the option to miss an event if I was sick. We only had a staff of 2-3 people, some of whom were often working other events, so they wouldn’t have been able to cover for me. We had volunteers to help with the events, but our volunteers weren’t able to run events on their own. If I was responsible for the event, I had to be there. Taking on so much just wasn’t sustainable for the staff. I wanted to do well in my new job, be seen as a positive and flexible coworker, and learn new skills like managing volunteers and public speaking, so I was enthusiastic at first about working overtime and taking on so much. Just coming out of college I was used to spending a lot of time studying, so it didn’t occur to me, at least not right away, that I was sacrificing my health for my job.”

E. is a chef working for a catering company. They said: “My salary is $56K, and I’m not paid for overtime. Typically, I work a minimum of 50 hours a week, but over the last six months, I’ve been working 60-65 hours a week. Right now, the more I work, the less I make per hour. I make less money per hour than I did when I was an hourly worker, and that’s really depressing.”

Alec is a manager working in retail. He said: “My partner and I both work in customer service/retail. Every holiday season, I watch as my partner is expected to work up to 90 hours a week, getting paid only cents on the hour after he hits overtime. For every hour my partner works over 40, his hourly take home pay drops. Businesses are more than aware of their ability to take advantage of salaried employees below the overtime threshold and they do so — this is reprehensible and the state must put an end to it.”  

If you are an hourly worker, you should already be getting overtime when you work more than 40 hours in a week. (If you’re not getting overtime pay and you think you should be, contact us!) But almost no salaried workers in Washington qualify for overtime pay, because the overtime rules are so far out of date. By raising the salary threshold for overtime exemption to 2.5x the minimum wage, the proposal would restore overtime to more than 250,000 workers across the state, regardless of whether they’re classified salaried or hourly, and no matter what their job title is. It is critical the state hears from workers and supporters of the proposal because it is being met with fierce opposition from business and employer groups. Add your voice to Lauren’s, Alec’s, Chris’s, and thousands of others in calling for the state to restore overtime to salaried workers. Because our time counts. 

Workers at Pyramid Alehouse Settle Wage Theft Lawsuit for $450,000

Today, current and former workers at Pyramid Alehouse in SoDo are celebrating long overdue paychecks thanks to a big win in court. Yesterday morning, a judge with King County Superior Court finalized the $450,000 settlement of a class action wage-and-hour lawsuit that workers against Pyramid’s ownership group, Independent Brewers United, LLC. The average award for each worker in the settlement will be about $1,000, while the highest award in the class totals more than $9,800.

Scenes from the King Count Courthouse yesterday. From left to right: Britt Glass (attorney with Terrell Marshall Law Group), Brian Drew (a named plaintiff in the case), Danielle Alvarado (FWC), Jeremy Brotherton (worker in the class), Devon Blevins (FWC), Henny Ahn (FWC)

Brian Drew, a former bartender at the Alehouse and one of the named plaintiffs, has some advice to others working in the restaurant industry based on his experience in this case: “You get used to putting up with a certain amount of shenanigans when working in restaurants, and what is really needed is a culture change in the industry where people feel like they can stand up for what’s right. Too often we just go along with whatever management says because we know there is a line of people waiting to take whatever job we might have. But workers need to know they have rights and they can’t be fired for saying, ‘Hey something is wrong with my paycheck this week.’ And talk to your coworkers too. You’re not alone, and they’re probably experiencing the same things as you are.”

In the lawsuit, workers alleged several forms of wage theft and abuse during the years of 2014 to 2018. The allegations included:

  • Failure to provide meal and rest breaks
  • Failure to record and pay workers for all work hours
  • Manipulation of timesheets to delete hours worked (“time shaving”)
  • Failure to pay overtime for hours worked over 40 in a week
  • Failure to pay employees all service charges paid by customers
  • Failure to disclose to customers that not all banquet service charges collected went to the workers who provided services

In addition to paying their workers for the hours they worked, Pyramid will also be required to provide training to its workers so they know that whenever they are working, they must be on the clock.

“Food service workers are too often subjected to wage theft and other workplace abuses. With this settlement, we’re content the employer is being held accountable to the law and will have to change its practices. And we’re happy the workers will finally be getting paid the wages to which they’re entitled,” said Toby Marshall, a lawyer with Terrell Marshall Law Group.

“Class action employment cases like this help show that when workers stand together, they have the strength and the power to make serious changes in their work conditions,” said Rachel Lauter, Executive Director at Fair Work Center and Working Washington. “Fair Work Center is incredibly proud to play a role in bringing justice to workers at the Pyramid Alehouse in SoDo.”

In early 2018, workers from Pyramid Alehouse came to Fair Work Center seeking advice and support for discrepancies they were seeing in their paychecks. Fair Work Center is a nonprofit worker center that helps low-wage workers understand and exercise their rights at work through know your rights training and free legal services. Fair Work Center partnered with the employment litigation firm of Terrell Marshal Law Group to bring the case on behalf of the workers, which was filed in April of 2018.

Fighting for the rights of immigrant workers

Fair Work Center fights for the rights of immigrant workers every day. From our know your rights trainings and free legal services to our partnerships with immigrant community organizations, we stand with low-wage, immigrant workers fighting for their rights on the job.

Recently, we joined the fight for immigrant rights that has been raging for years at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma. The NWDC is a privately-operated, for-profit prison that contracts with the federal government to detain community members fighting their immigration cases. It is operated by the GEO Group, the 2nd largest private prison company in the country. GEO has long been under fire for the NWCD’s abysmal conditions and mistreatment of detainees, including those whose labor keeps the detention center running. GEO pays these detainee workers just $1 a day, even though Washington minimum wage is $12 an hour. For the record, $1 a day at the state minimum wage buys you about 5 minutes of work. GEO’s entire business model relies on stealing at least 91% of detainees’ wages, all while generating more than $2 billion in annual revenue. 

In September 2017, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued GEO Group for failing to pay detainee workers the state minimum wage. This summer, the Fair Work Center was asked to support the lawsuit by filing an amicus brief due to our expertise in enforcing minimum wage protections for Washington workers. An amicus brief is the legal term for providing expertise, information, or other insights to the court to aid in a case that isn’t your own. You can read the brief we filed in support of the Attorney General’s case here. In it we argue that Washington’s wage and hour laws apply to all employees, that wage theft is rampant in our economy, and that GEO is committing wage theft from detained workers. 

This lawsuit is about the value of work, and specifically the value of immigrant work. Immigrant workers, even detained immigrant workers, have the right to the legal minimum wage for their work.

As we argue in the brief, “wage theft is a systemic problem that disproportionately impacts vulnerable low-wage workers.” There probably isn’t a more vulnerable worker than a detained immigrant who faces deportation – but all employers in Washington have to follow the law, and all employees in Washington are covered.  By calling out GEO’s particularly egregious acts of wage theft, Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit has the potential to put all employers on notice: no worker is ripe for exploitation in Washington, which is why Fair Work Center is proud to be lending our expertise to support the suit in this way.

Read the full amicus brief here, and remember to contact Fair Work Center if you or someone you know is having their rights violated at work.


PS – We are seeking third-year law students or recent law graduates interested in applying for public interest fellowships with Fair Work Center beginning in fall 2020, including Skadden, Equal Justice Workers, Justice Catalyst, and other independently funded programs. Learn more here!

New rights for domestic workers take effect July 1!

DYK? July 1 marks the effective date of the Seattle Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. This legislation was a huge win for the thousands of nannies, caregivers, house cleaners, and landscapers who have long operated in the shadows of our federal, state, and local labor standards. We’re proud of all the work our sibling org, Working Washington, did in collaboration with the Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance to win this landmark legislation.

Beginning Monday July 1st, nannies, house cleaners, home health care workers and other domestic workers get the basic rights and benefits every worker needs — including power on the job.

Ends the exclusion of these workers from basic labor standards:

  • Covers all part-time, full-time, independent contractors, and live-in domestic workers in the city — regardless of whether they are employed by an agency or a family.
  • Applies Seattle’s minimum wage to domestic workers, regardless of whether they are classified as employees or contractors.
  • Ensures all domestic workers receive meal and rest breaks, with provisions for those circumstances when breaks may not be feasible.

Provides important new rights and protections:

  • Ensures live-in workers get at least one day off out of every seven days worked.
  • Forbids employers from keeping a worker’s original documents, like passports or driver’s licenses.
  • Strengthens anti-retaliation protections for domestic workers who stand up for their rights.

Establishes a new model of worker power:

  • Establishes a Domestic Workers Standards Board which includes workers, employers, and community representatives and has the power to effectively set industry-wide standards.
  • Mandates that the standards board will address wage standards, portable benefits, hiring agreements, training, paid time off, outreach & enforcement, and other issues as they arise.
  • Gives the board real power by requiring City Council to act on the board’s recommendations within 120 days.

When the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938 it provided workers with the right to a minimum wage and 40-hour workweek, as well as overtime pay for extra hours over 40. But not all workers. Domestic workers, home health care workers, and farm workers were all excluded because of racism – that is, in order to get the support of Southern Democrats in Congress, the bill excluded these jobs done almost entirely by black and Latinx/Hispanic workers. Farm workers and home health care workers eventually won minimum wage but not overtime pay. Seattle’s Domestic

Health & Safety in Yakima Valley

Julia is a Mexican immigrant who works as an apple picker in Washington’s Yakima Valley. Recently, Julia’s supervisor instructed her to tend to a section of apple trees in a field that had been sprayed with pesticides only days before.

Pesticide exposure is a major occupational hazard for farmworkers and their families. In fact, pesticide exposure is attributed to higher rates of health problems among farmworkers’ children, including leukemia and cancer, because parents come home with pesticides on their skin and clothes and expose their children.

Julia knew she shouldn’t have to work in the recently sprayed field, but she didn’t know what to do about it – until she talked to Ricardo, an outreach and education specialist with Fair Work Center & Working Washington.

Julia contacted Ricardo after hearing him on a local Spanish radio call-in show. Julia took Ricardo to the field she was instructed to work in and they took pictures of the signs warning people to stay away because of pesticides.

Together they filed a complaint with Washington’s Department of Safety & Health (DOSH). DOSH confirmed that Julie and her coworkers shouldn’t be working in that field and instructed her employer not to send workers there.


León works in a commercial kitchen located in a grocery store in Yakima.

Conditions in the kitchen were miserable, especially since the air conditioner and other kitchen equipment was broken. Ricardo also supported León in filing a complaint with DOSH, who sent an inspector to verify the broken air conditioner and other equipment. The inspector filed an official request for the grocery store to fix the broken equipment, which they have since done. And, while the inspector was on site, he spoke with León and his coworkers and learned they were also being discriminated against because they are immigrants, so he supported them in filing complaints with the Washington Human Rights Commission.

Now, thanks to Fair Work Center and Working Washington’s presence in the region, Leon and his coworkers are working in a safer and healthier workplace, and are happier too since they are no longer being harassed and discriminated against at work. 

Our presence in the Yakima Valley is possible in part due to funding from the DOSH Safety & Health Investment Project.

Your top 6 rights at work in Washington — in under 60 seconds!

On this May Day, we celebrate workers and their incredible contributions to society as we know it today. In honor of the original fight for one of the first workplace standards – the 8 hour workday – we bring you this new video: “Your top 6 rights at work in under 60 seconds.”

Check it out and share it on social media, help us get ensure all workers know their rights at work.

#1 Minimum Wage & no wage theft: at least $12/hr, higher in some cities — Not being paid the minimum wage or for all of your time spent working are common forms of wage theft.

#2 Paid Sick Leave: You earn at least 1 hour of sick leave time for 40 hours you work. — You can also use your leave time for issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

#3 Overtime: 1.5x pay for hours worked over 40 in a week — Not applicable to OT exempt workers — Not getting overtime pay is a common form of wage theft

#4 Meal & rest breaks: 10-min paid rest break for every 4 hours worked; 30-min unpaid meal break for 5+ hour shifts — Not getting meal or rest breaks is a common form of wage theft

#5 No harassment & discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, nation of origin, or disability.

#6 Healthy & safety in the workplace

CONTACT US IF YOU YOUR RIGHTS ARE BEING VIOLATED OR YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS!
1-844-485-1195 | help@fairworkcenter.org

Su & Us: Enforcing the minimum wage

Su, a Korean immigrant who worked as an assistant to a hairdresser in Bellevue, answered phones, greeted customers, swept up hair, and provided tea and snacks. She worked 45 hours per week but was paid just $1,000 per month, less than $5.50 per hour. Her employer thought that she could take advantage of Su and her desire to break into the personal care industry, telling her that she was not an employee but an “independent contractor.”

Su knew this was unfair and was referred to the Fair Work Legal Clinic by 21 Progress, one of our Fair Work Collaborative partners. The Legal Clinic represented Su, filing a charge of wage theft on her behalf with Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I).

L&I initially found that Su’s employer must pay $2,000. But Su brought in her records showing that she was actually owed double that amount. L&I agreed and ordered Su’s employer to pay the full $4,000 she was owed. Su is thrilled with the result and we are thrilled that we could support Su in standing up for her right to a fair wage. That said, L&I could and should have gone further in cases like Su’s.

Unfortunately, in the majority of its cases, L&I does not require that employers pay interest when paying back wages stolen from their workers’ paychecks. This means that if L&I orders payment a year after the theft happened, the employer gets to use the worker’s money during that whole time. This is like an employer taking an interest-free loan from its employees’ paychecks. Meanwhile, low-wage workers – who are disproportionately women, people of color, immigrants and refugees – have the pay the interest on credit card debt or payday loans just to get by. This isn’t right, and Fair Work Center will continue to advocate that L&I must include interest in these wage and hour cases.

If you think you are not being paid the minimum wage, or what you are owed, please call our hotline at 1-844-485-1195, email us at help@fairworkcenter.org, or fill out our our web-form.

Overtime for Nonprofit Workers?!? Join us Wednesday 1/23 for a conversation about nonprofits and restoring overtime rights

Washington State could act to restore overtime rights to hundreds of thousands of salaried workers in our state — including thousands who work long hours for low pay at nonprofits.
Nonprofit staff, board members, managers, volunteers, and donors are invite to join Vu Le of NonprofitAF and Rainier Valley Corps fame, Misha Werschkul of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, Laura Pierce of Washington Nonprofit Association and Rachel Lauter of Working Washington and Fair Work Center for an online conversation about:

What’s going on with overtime rules

What’s at stake for workers and communities

How updated overtime rules could affect your job, your nonprofit, and your mission… for the better!

Lunch & Learn: Nonprofits & Overtime Rights
Wednesday, January 23, 2019
12:00 pm
Online on Zoom and in person at Southside Commons in Columbia City (map)
Nonprofits have a key role to play in this conversation. Join us Wednesday to learn more about the issue and what’s next.

This raise was brought to you by fast food workers

No single group has done more to raise standards for low-wage workers over the past decade than low-wage workers. It’s easy to take for granted the annual increases to the minimum wage in Washington, Seattle, SeaTac, and Tacoma that just occurred last week on January 1st. It’s easy to forget how we got here, and just as importantly, who got us here.

In late 2012, Working Washington began organizing in SeaTac with the idea of making every job at the airport a good job. Those efforts resulted Proposition 1, a ballot initiative passed in November of 2013 which raised wages to $15/hour with annual adjustments for inflation for airport and hospitality workers in SeaTac. It also provided paid sick days and provisions that gave workers opportunities for more hours and ensured they received all the tips or service charges they earned.

Six months later, hundreds of fast food workers with Working Washington in Seattle launched strikes across the city, calling for $15 for all workers across the city. Prior to the first strikes, the only fast food workers you heard from in the media were actors in commercials, but through their courageous action, these low-wage workers sparked a citywide debate about the poverty-wage economy and the future of work in Seattle. Despite initially being dismissed as unrealistic by nearly everyone, Seattle’s Fight for $15 was soon embraced by the public and a wide spectrum of leaders in the city.


Check out this video, “Walking Out Into History” for more on the epic win of $15 in Seattle.

The speed and scale of the shift was extraordinary. Workers continued agitating after those first strikes, with additional strikes, a march from SeaTac to Seattle, and a number of creative street actions to turn up the heat on local elected leaders to act. And in less than six months of high profile actions, a $15 minimum wage was a major plank of both mayoral candidates’ platforms and everyone, from City Hall to workplaces large and small, was talking about the inevitability of raising the minimum wage. On May 1, 2014 – just one year after those first fast food workers took to the streets – Mayor Ed Murray announced a proposal to increase Seattle’s minimum wage over the course of the next seven years to $15 or higher for all workers. The rest, as they say, is history.

Fair Work Center comes out of this history. We were founded shortly after $15 was established in Seattle in order to ensure that the new minimum wage – as well as other progressive labor standards workers won like paid sick and safe leave and fair chance employment – was enforced and that workers were getting paid the wages they fought for.

Today we provide know your rights education to thousands of workers each year. We support hundreds of workers in exercising their rights through our legal clinic. And we are partnering with Working Washington to build lasting power for low-wage workers across the state.

For more information on the minimum wage or your other rights on the job, to learn how to access our free legal clinic or arrange a know your rights training in your community, check out www.fairworkcenter.org.