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[ Private Prison Guilty of Slave Labor ] For-profit operator of the Northwest ICE Processing Center must pay $23.2 million

For-profit operator of the Northwest ICE Processing Center must pay $23.2 million as a result of unfair labor practices and not paying detainees minimum wages

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Nov 2 2021 www.atg.wa.gov

Judge orders GEO to surrender $5.9 million in unjust enrichment gained through the use of $1 per day labor, after jury awards $17.3 million in back pay to detainee workers

OLYMPIA — Today U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan ordered The GEO Group Inc. (GEO), the for-profit operator of the Northwest ICE Processing Center, to pay $5.9 million, the amount GEO unlawfully gained through the use of $1-per-day labor since 2005. The workers performed essential tasks while detained at the Center such as doing the laundry, preparing and serving food and cleaning the facility. This work included cooking and serving three meals a day, scrubbing showers and toilets, cleaning the walk-in oven, and buffing and waxing the floors in the middle of the night.

This concludes the final phase of the three-week trial in Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit against GEO.

In the first phase of the trial, a jury unanimously found GEO liable for violating Washington’s Minimum Wage Act. Consequently, GEO must now pay all its workers at least Washington’s minimum wage. Washington’s current minimum wage is $13.69 per hour.

In the second phase, the same jury awarded $17.3 million to more than 10,000 individuals detained at the Northwest ICE Processing Center to compensate them for back wages owed.

“This is a landmark victory for workers’ rights and basic human dignity,” Ferguson said.

Washington is the first state to sue a for-profit detention center for failure to pay minimum wage and for unjust enrichment. Ferguson filed the lawsuit against GEO in September 2017, alleging that GEO’s practice violates Washington law by paying workers less than the minimum wage, and that GEO unjustly enriched itself by doing so. Assistant Attorneys General Marsha Chien, Andrea Brenneke, and Lane Polozola, Investigator Alma Poletti, and Legal Assistant Caiti Hall of the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division led the case for the Attorney General’s Office.

The class of workers who recovered those back wages are represented by a private law firm, Schroeter Goldmark & Bender of Seattle.

Unjust enrichment

Today Judge Bryan found that GEO enriched itself by its unfair and unjust practice. The Court ordered GEO to surrender $5,950,430 of the gains it realized from this unlawful practice, which GEO engaged in from 2005 to today.

Unjust enrichment is the increased value to GEO’s business generated from its unfair labor practices. For example, by pocketing the wages it didn't pay over the years, GEO has had the benefit of that money for itself to invest in its business and pay its shareholders.

Back-pay

GEO used immigrant detainee labor to perform virtually all non-security functions at Tacoma’s Northwest ICE Processing Center, formerly known as the Northwest Detention Center. Since at least 2005, GEO has paid thousands of detainee workers each year $1 per day or, in some instances, extra food for labor that is necessary to keep the facility operational.

A class of more than 10,000 individuals who provided operational labor to the detention center for $1 per day also sued GEO for its labor practices, represented by Schroeter Goldmark & Bender attorneys Jamal Whitehead and Adam Berger, along with partners. That private class action lawsuit was consolidated with Ferguson’s lawsuit for trial.

Many of the detained immigrants, including lead class plaintiff Goodluck Nwauzor, were held at the facility while waiting on decisions in their immigration court cases. Nwauzor – a Nigerian-born asylum seeker – was granted asylum status in 2017 and lawful permanent residency after an eight-month detainment during which he worked for just $1 per day cleaning showers.

GEO’s practice also impacted employment opportunities for workers in the community.

The Northwest ICE Processing Center and The GEO Group

Located on Tacoma's Tideflats, the Northwest ICE Processing Center is the fourth-largest immigration detention center in the country. People are held at the facility while undergoing proceedings to determine their immigration status. GEO’s Northwest ICE Processing Center has the capacity to house up to 1,575 immigrant detainees.

The Tacoma detention center has faced controversies, including multiple hunger strikes by detainees over the dollar a day practice, living conditions, access to medical care and other problems at the facility. Recently, a group of women went on hunger strike to protest the dangerous conditions they faced while detained at the Center during the coronavirus pandemic, including overcrowding, a lack of access to medical care and basic necessities like soap.

GEO has owned and operated the facility since 2005. The Florida-based company has been in partnership with ICE since the 1980s, and in 2015, ICE renewed GEO's contract for the facility through 2025. At the time the contract was renewed, GEO projected the Tacoma detention center would bring in $57 million in revenue every year at full capacity.

Ferguson created the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division in 2015 to protect the rights of all Washington residents by enforcing state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Ferguson named the division for Wing Luke, who served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Washington in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He went on to become the first person of color elected to the Seattle City Council and the first Asian-American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest.

Case background

GEO’s Northwest ICE Processing Center has the capacity to house up to 1,575 immigrant detainees. Detainees perform most of the work necessary to run the facility. This includes preparing and serving food, running the laundry services, performing facility maintenance and cleaning nearly the entire facility except for areas where detainees are barred from entering. Detainee workers even provide thousands of haircuts per year at the center’s barbershop, staffed entirely by detainees.

In interviews with AGO investigators, detainees described working through the night buffing floors and painting walls in exchange for chips and candy.

Detainees reported that they needed money inside the facility to supplement meager food rations, and to afford the pay phones that were the exclusive means of making calls to their loved ones. Detainees’ concerns about being paid $1 per day is one of several concerns that detainees raised during multiple hunger strikes over the last several years.

The Attorney General’s Office asserted in the lawsuit and at trial that GEO unjustly profited from its extensive minimum wage violations. Washington’s minimum wage laws are meant to protect as many workers as possible and the Washington economy.

There are no exceptions for private, for-profit facilities like GEO’s facility. The people detained there are not criminals, nor part of a treatment or rehabilitation program. In contrast with a jail or prison, which house people involved in the criminal justice system and are operated by state or local governments, the detention center is a for-profit facility that houses people who are awaiting civil immigration proceedings.

The Northwest ICE Processing Facility and GEO Group

Located on Tacoma's Tideflats, the Northwest ICE Processing Facility is the fourth-largest immigration detention center in the country. People are held at the facility while undergoing proceedings to determine their immigration status.

GEO has owned and operated the facility since 2005. The Florida-based company has been in partnership with ICE since the 1980s, and in 2015, ICE renewed GEO's contract for the facility through 2025. At the time the contract was renewed, GEO projected the Tacoma detention center would bring in $57 million in revenue every year at full capacity.

GEO has faced a variety of lawsuits, including a class action suit by current and former detainees at a Colorado facility alleging forced labor. Washington’s case was tried together with a class action suit of former detainees at the Tacoma facility.

The Tacoma detention center has faced its own controversies, including multiple hunger strikes by detainees over living conditions, access to medical care and other problems at the facility. Most recently, a group of women went on hunger strike to protest the dangerous conditions they faced while detained at the center during the coronavirus pandemic, including overcrowding, a lack of access to medical care and basic necessities like soap.

Assistant Attorneys General Marsha Chien, Andrea Brenneke, and Lane Polozola, Investigator Alma Poletti, and Legal Assistant Caiti Hall of the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division are leading the case for the Attorney General’s Office.

Ferguson created the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division in 2015 to protect the rights of all Washington residents by enforcing state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Ferguson named the division for Wing Luke, who served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Washington in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He went on to become the first person of color elected to the Seattle City Council and the first Asian-American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest.

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Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Media Contact:

Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov

https://www.atg.wa.gov/news/news-releases/profit-operator-northwest-ice-processing-center-must-pay-232-million-result?fbclid=IwAR29I9pi7TcacFKHtKHFCEAklhg8SILmbH1g3Y_OojHKz3HrmXmuse06fmU



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