The company also rejected the allegation that Golden State Annex has not adequately implemented COVID-19 protections required for employers in California. State rules include notifying employees within one business day if they were exposed to an infected person, and training workers on the employer’s policies to protect them from virus hazards.
Attorney Lisa Knox, who helped detainees submit the Cal/OSHA complaint, said GEO’s health and safety record shows the company can’t be trusted to fix current problems at detention centers on its own.
“We want California to use its authority to protect the health and safety of these workers. And that means going in to inspect the facility,” said Knox, legal director at the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice. “And we want them to take appropriate action, be that fines, be that requiring GEO to address some of these issues.”
Knox and other advocates have requested that California’s attorney general investigate additional potential labor issues at the detention center, such as minimum wage violations.
A spokesperson for California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s Office said the office is reviewing that request, but declined to comment further.
“To protect its integrity, we’re unable to comment on a potential or ongoing investigation,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.
A federal judge in Riverside ruled earlier this year that detainees working at another GEO-run facility in Southern California are considered employees under state law, Knox said.
Is it wage theft? Dispute playing out in other states
Last fall, a federal judge in Washington state ordered GEO to pay $23.2 million for failing to pay minimum wage to immigrant detainees who volunteered to cook and clean for $1 a day while held at a facility in Tacoma. The lawsuit was brought by Washington state’s attorney general and other plaintiffs.
GEO responded to the ruling by reportedly closing its worker program at the Tacoma detention center. The company is seeking to reverse the judge’s order before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that states lack the authority to dictate how much to pay detainees because the work program they volunteer for is established by the federal government and is paid for by federal dollars.