2nd lawsuit says big detention center must pay minimum wage

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SEATTLE — A second lawsuit is challenging the failure of one of the nation’s largest private immigration jails to pay detainees minimum wage for the work they perform.

Former detainee Chao Chen filed the class-action federal lawsuit Tuesday against The GEO Group, the for-profit company that operates the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the company in state court last week, alleging violations of Washington’s minimum wage law.

GEO says the center has a volunteer work program and minimum wages rates and standards specified exclusively by the federal government under standards set for detainees in 2011.

The company pays $1 per day to detainees for kitchen, cleaning and janitorial tasks at the 1,500-bed facility. Chen, a Chinese citizen who was detained from 2014 to 2016, is a legal permanent resident of the U.S. and lives in Renton.