“Businesses who didn’t want to comply with the new state minimum wage and paid time off law were finding ways to manipulate the system through the language of the law.” — Hadley Wan, Working WA member
Working WA members across the state have made it clear: we’re sick of seeing misleading “minimum wage surcharges” on receipts at restaurants and other businesses. They’re confusing for customers, they’re legally questionable, and they seem to be a new way for employers to lash out at workers for fighting for higher wages. Paying the minimum wage is a basic cost of doing business, not an extra add-on to be counted separately, so there’s no good reason to tack on a few extra percent and attribute it to the minimum wage.
That’s why we sent a letter to L&I, asking that they make policies to put an end to misleading minimum wage surcharges. And last week, we got a chance to sit down with L&I and bring your signatures, comments, and voices to the table. Working WA member Hadley Wan of Tumwater came to the meeting to represent workers’ voices.
Hadley has worked in the restaurant industry, as a car valet, a security monitor, in construction, trail maintenance, disaster relief, and most recently, as an advocate for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Here’s what he had to say about the meeting!
“Through Working WA’s newsletters I learned that they would be meeting the Dept. of Labor & Industries over the recent outcry of business-imposed service charges. If anyone would’ve liked to attend we were welcome to. I had read the public’s submitted comments and about Working WA’s efforts — I felt that, since I was available, I ought to lend any support I can.
In my mind, I’d imagined picketers outside chanting and waving signs. Instead of a protest, the meeting turned out to be a roundtable forum that L&I had invited Working WA and other labor organizations to attend. Representatives from Working WA, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, and the Fair Work Center were offering evidence and years of industry experience-based opinions on how to change and clarify L&I policies. Businesses who didn’t want to comply with the new state minimum wage and paid time off law were finding ways to manipulate the system through the language of the law. From the photos of evidence submitted by everyday consumers, it seemed like some businesses were outright breaking the law.
L&I seemed receptive to most of the changes suggested; they will also be meeting the business owners to hear their perspective, so it’s imperative that they know what our needs are and why we need them. Towards the end of the meeting I was given a few minutes to read aloud some of the submitted comments, amplifying the message that what those businesses are doing is unethical, and not in the best interest of Washington’s workers and consumers. I felt like I was fulfilling my civic duty — workers always have to advocate for ourselves against government and business practices. If L&I is true to their commitment, then I think they’re feeling the pressure to make some amendments. Overall, it felt like a productive and friendly meeting.
The 40-hour work week, minimum wage, safe working conditions, and the banning of child labor were not simply handed to us by employers and policymakers — they were fought for and demanded by the workers who lived and faced exploitation daily. And we must continue to demand what we need. Not only to earn a paycheck to afford life, but for a safe and healthy life with time to pursue our own interests.”
Because of Working WA members, L&I is now aware of this issue, and they’re having real conversations about how to protect workers and consumers from surcharges. We’ll be continuing to work with L&I to make sure businesses don’t get away with misleading and short-changing workers and consumers.