Tuesday, Seattle blew up over the Internet about the closure of the beloved sandwich shop Paseo. Many former patrons didn’t realize that the bigger issue was not that we were losing good sandwiches, but that four Hispanic and Mexican workers were seeking justice against Paseo for discrimination and wage theft.

Since there are so many articles about the topic, we thought we’d condense the highlights here for you.

As WSAJ EAGLE member Matthew Ennis explained to the Business Journal: “This is an interesting case because it brings wage theft to the forefront of conversations. Just because of everyone’s love for a sandwich.”

FOUR FORMER EMPLOYEES CLAIM Paseo Caribbean Food, Inc. engaged in wage theft, denial of breaks, and racially-motivated mistreatment. Paseo Caribbean Food, Inc. denies the allegations.

Photo via The Stranger

  1. Four workers filed suit in September.
  2. The allegations were that they were treated differently, discouraged to seek medical treatment, were forced to work shifts longer than 12 hours, were not provided with one-hour breaks, and were denied overtime wages.
  3. After complaining about the treatment, the workers were fired on March 13 this year.
  4. Paseo disagrees. They say workers were fired for “unsatisfactory job performance, abusive language, and threatening other employees.” They also say the workers were at-will.
  5. $50 billion in wages are stolen from workers each year, which could pay for 1.2 million $20/hr jobs.
  6. Some people asked whether the employees were documented immigrants, but that doesn’t matter legally:
    “You will get, sometimes, a defense council threatening, ‘Well, these guys are illegal and we’re going to make an issue out of that.’ But it doesn’t really wash because my understanding of the Washington Minimum Wage Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination is it applies to undocumented workers also. It’s a public policy that type of argument too, you can’t have employers knowingly employing undocumented workers and then having them do slave labor. It doesn’t matter whether you’re undocumented or not, they’re entitled to protection of the law.”
  7. A study by the Center for Urban Economic Development, the National Employment Law Project and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment found that 76% of low-wage employees were not paid deserved overtime and that foreign-born Latino workers were more affected by wage violations than any other demographic.

No matter the outcome of the suit, we agree with Ennis that this brings attention to a very serious topic. WSAJ will continue to fight for laws pertaining to wage theft, misclassification, and retaliation against employers in the upcoming legislative session.

Washington among least expensive workers’ comp states

Workers’ compensation, as described by Cornell University, is made of “laws [that] protect people who are injured on the job. They are designed to ensure that employees who are injured or disabled on the job are provided with fixed monetary awards, eliminating the need for litigation.” Workers’ comp is how we protect employees. It is a vital part of our state’s framework and helps injured people seek justice. But some people are attacking it, according to The Stand.

According to the latest state-by-state comparison on national business competitive assessments, Washington is among the least expensive states for actual employer costs paid for workers’ compensation.

Chief Actuary for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), only ten state have less expensive coverage to employers:

Strangely, (or perhaps not so strangely) the Washington Roundtable, which represents big business CEOs in the state, tried to declare that “Washington is the most expensive state in the nation for workers’ compensation benefits paid per covered worker.” This was partially in response to L&I’s proposal to increase the average workers’ comp rate by 1.8 percent to keep up with wages and to help rebuild the system’s reserves.

As it would turn out, the Roundtable wasn’t referring to what employers pay, but to the benefits provided to injured workers. That is, they aren’t complaining about the cost, but our high level of care for injured and disabled workers.

They point to reports from the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services and the National Academy for Social Insurance, picking out certain statistics, ignoring the rest, and not noticing that these studies fail to take into account several factors. Oregon’s study, for example, misses additional costs such as the Stay at Work program and Supplemental Pension Fund, retrospective refunds, and that Washington is the only state in the nation where workers pay a portion of the cost.

Big businesses are trying to misuse this data to encourage policy makers and legislators to cut benefits to workers. This is simply another case of putting profits over people.