Detention Center Allegedly Pays Immigrant Detainees $1 Per Day

From labor disputes cases to labor and employment publications, for your research, you’ll find solutions on Bloomberg Law®. Protect your clients by developing strategies based on Litigation...

By Laura D. Francis

The second largest private prison provider in the country is profiting off of immigrant detainee labor while paying them only $1 a day, or in some cases just snack food, according to a Sept. 20 lawsuit filed by the Washington state attorney general.

The lawsuit against the GEO Group Inc. ( Washington v. GEO Grp., Inc. , Wash. Super. Ct., No. 17-2-11422-2, complaint filed 9/20/17 ) is believed to be the first of its kind filed by a state attorney general. A group of immigrant detainees at a Colorado detention center also has filed a class action against GEO over the same detainee work program.

“A multi-billion dollar corporation is trying to get away with paying its workers $1 per day,” state Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) said in a statement. “That shouldn’t happen in America, and I will not tolerate it happening in Washington. For-profit companies cannot exploit Washington workers.”

“GEO strongly refutes the baseless and meritless allegations made in this lawsuit, and we intend to vigorously defend our company against these claims,” the company said in a statement provided to Bloomberg BNA Sept. 20. “The volunteer work program at all federal immigration facilities as well as the minimum wage rates and standards associated with the program are set exclusively by the Federal government under mandated performance-based national detention standards, which were promulgated by the Obama Administration in 2011.”

“All [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] facilities operated by GEO, including the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, are highly rated and provide high-quality services in safe, secure, and humane residential environments that meet the non-penal, non-punitive needs of individuals in the care and custody of federal immigration authorities pursuant to the Federal government’s national standards,” GEO said.

Only Government-Operated Prisons Exempt

The lawsuit claims a violation of state minimum wage requirements as well as unjust enrichment, meaning GEO unlawfully profited off of the detainees’ labor.

Washington has a minimum wage of $11 per hour. Inmates of state, county, and municipal corrections facilities are exempt from the state wage and hour law’s protections, but that exemption doesn’t extend to private prisons, according to the statement from Ferguson’s office. And immigrant detainees are being held pending resolution of civil immigration proceedings, it said.

With the exception of guard duties, detainees perform nearly all work associated with keeping the Northwest Detention Center operating, Ferguson’s office said. That includes preparing and serving food, doing laundry, and cleaning common areas and restrooms.

The exact amount the attorney general seeks to recoup for the detainees will be determined in the litigation, but it’s expected to be in the millions of dollars, Ferguson’s office said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Labor & Employment on Bloomberg Law