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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Crack down on state’s labor, wage scofflaws

Attorney General Bob Ferguson last Friday filed criminal charges against a former Seattle Seahawk and an accomplice who allegedly lifted more employee wages than barbells at their two Seattle athletic clubs, and shorted state and local government a ton of taxes besides.

He’s also supporting overdue legislation that will discourage abuses by companies that want to do business with the state.

That probably does not include former NFL Pro-Bowl player Sam Adams and Dana Lynn Sargent, who are accused of withholding $41,000 in wages and benefits from 11 employees. That may be nothing to Adams, but for the housekeepers, trainers and others he allegedly cheated, it was eviction, unpurchased Christmas presents or – in just one case – $50,000 in medical bills unpaid because insurer Aetna never received any premiums for the company health plan.

All told, the unmet obligations to employees and state and local government exceed $450,000, and that is for just the two clubs Adams owned in Washington. He has four more in Oregon.

In June, Adams filed a $3.4 million bankruptcy.

Adams and Sargent have not yet made court appearances on the criminal charges, only the second for wage theft ever filed by the Washington Attorney General’s Office. Most of these cases are handled at the county level, if these crimes even come to the attention of the authorities.

Many of these cases affect low-paid workers who do not know how to seek the pay they are due by going to the Department of Labor and Industries. Or they do not want to lose their jobs, or affect their chances for another. Many are immigrants fearful of calling attention to themselves.

Often, as in this case, the accused perpetrators are serial offenders who open and close businesses, leaving unpaid claims behind them. These wage and tax cheats all too often are bidding, and winning, government contracts.

President Barack Obama last July signed an executive order that requires companies bidding on federal contracts to disclose labor law violations in the previous three years, and provides additional worker protections. Some states are also taking action, and Ferguson’s bill – SB 5050/HB 1089 – would fight the problem in Washington.

As with the president’s executive order, contractors must sign a sworn statement they have not, more than one time in the past three years, willfully violated state wage law provisions. A false statement would constitute perjury. To help address concerns of the Association of General Contractors, violations are defined as a civil judgment or finding by L&I.

Twenty-two of 771 businesses identified by L&I as repeat wage law violators are registered vendors potentially eligible for state contracts.

The House State Government Committee voted unanimously to advance the measure to the Rules Committee. The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Baumgartner, has not yet scheduled a hearing.

It should be heard and passed. The state should not be paying contractors with a history of swindling employees.

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