Labor Ready sued in N.Y., San Jose

The AFL-CIO filed its second and third lawsuits yesterday against Labor Ready, a blue-collar temporary-employment agency based in Tacoma.

The lawsuits, filed in New York City and San Jose, join a third case in Atlanta, citing unfair-labor practices. The lawsuits are the result of the labor federation's nationwide campaign to organize temporary workers.

In these cases, the AFL-CIO is questioning how Labor Ready charges its employees for cashing their checks. Workers who use the Labor Ready ATM-like cash machine must pay $1 and forfeit any change because the machines do not dispense coins.

The charges totaled $7.7 million in revenue in 1999 for Labor Ready. The machines cost more than $6 million a year to run, according to Labor Ready.

"Labor Ready is extremely careful at being in full compliance in the laws in all states, including Georgia, California and New York," said Melanie De Bond, director of investor relations and communications. "They have a choice every day to get paid with a check or get paid in cash.

"We intend to aggressively fight to allow them the right to continue using the machines."

Washington state has said it won't open an investigation.

"If you want cash, it's an option. They aren't telling them to, and if there is a way to obtain money in way of a check, I don't think Washington state law is being violated at any point," said Greg Mullet of the Department of Labor and Industries.

A Georgia attorney for the labor organization attests, however, that cashing the checks with Labor Ready is the only option.

"The vast majority of Labor Ready employees don't have access to checking accounts, and don't have any way of getting cash without paying the fee," said Norman Slawsky, an attorney representing the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department. "Employees should be able to receive the full amount of wages," he continued.

De Bond of Labor Ready said employees do have an option, such as going to a bank or a check-cashing store, which can be more expensive. These stores charge a percentage of the check amount instead of a flat fee.

The AFL-CIO is asking the state courts to classify the suits as class action.