Clinic students testify in favor of worker protection bill

February 2, 2023

Professor Elizabeth Ford and students testify before House committeeStudents in the law school’s Workers’ Rights Clinic testified before a Washington State Legislature committee in Olympia last week, arguing for a measure that would deter wage theft and help workers recover from victimization by their employers.

Assistant Professor Elizabeth Ford, the clinic’s director, said her students last semester noticed a systemic problem when they helped low-wage clients pursue their claims of wage theft. They found that when the Department of Labor and Industries settled claims of wage theft, the state didn’t collect any interest on the money due to the worker. The students then drafted legislative language to fix the problem and reached out to lawmakers.

House Bill 1217 would require the department to collect interest on all meritorious claims of wage theft and would require the creation of a working group to explore other avenues to ensure workers are made whole from wage theft, including the possibility of a wage recovery fund, an idea that Ford has explored in recent scholarship. (See: Wage Recovery Funds, California Law Review)

“The goal of collecting that interest money is simply to make sure workers are made more whole for the economic injuries that they suffer,” said David Fernández, a third-year Seattle U Law student in the clinic. “Right now, that isn't happening.”

The flaw in the system was that the department only has the authority to collect interest when they issue a citation to the employer. However, Fernández said, the department settles 70 percent of all wage theft claims without issuing a citation.

He said the ability to charge interest would also serve as a deterrent, because employers would know they could face an additional financial burden, even if the wage theft claim is settled.

James Stafford, a second-year student at University of Washington School of Law, also testified. The clinic is open to students from both law schools.

Ford and her students testified before the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee. Video and transcript of the testimony is available via TVW. If that committee votes in favor of the bill on Feb. 3, it will move on to the Finance Committee.

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