Processor Forfeits $10,000 Bond; Faces $178,000 Court Judgement
March 21, 2005
The department seized a $10,000 state fish processor license bond posted by the Wild Alaska Seafood Company (WASCO), said Grey Mitchell, director of the department's Division of Labor Standards & Safety. The firm was in its first year operating a processing plant in Ekuk, in Southwest Alaska, when it closed last summer due to lack of operating capital.
After many workers complained to the department that they had not been paid wages and transportation costs, the department investigated, and in late 2004 filed legal charges against the company, Mitchell said.
Dillingham's Small Claims Court has ordered the company to pay the Labor Department a total of $178,000 on behalf of 19 workers it determined were due about $68,000 in wages and return transportation costs. The court also assessed $110,000 in penalties for WASCO's failure to pay wages and overtime due, which the company could have avoided by working to resolve the claims informally.
While the seizure of WASCO's bond held by the Alaska Department of Revenue means the workers will get paid about 15 percent of the amount due them in the next few weeks, it is unlikely they will collect on much of the judgement, Mitchell said. WASCO has no other apparent assets in Alaska and its corporate officers have left the state.
"I'm happy that these workers will receive a portion of their hard-earned wages, but this situation really stinks," said Greg O'Claray, commissioner of the Department of Labor. "We need to work on ways to provide more protection for Alaska's workers from slipshod operators like this."
Mitchell credited the hard work of his staff in securing some compensation for the workers.
"Wage and Hour Investigator Charlotte Hughes deserves a lot of credit for scratching up a portion of the wages due these workers," said Mitchell. "It really has been terribly unfortunate for the workers and fishermen associated with this company."
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