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Detention center contractor asks judge to toss lawsuit over $1-a-day pay

Northwest Detention Center. File photo

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) - A federal judge is considering whether to throw out two lawsuits, including one by the state of Washington, that seek to force one of the nation's largest privately run immigration detention centers to pay minimum wage for work done by detainees.

The GEO Group, the for-profit company that runs the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, is asking U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan to dismiss the cases, saying Washington doesn't have authority to bring the lawsuit and that the state's minimum wage law is overridden by Congress' decision to set rates for work performed by detainees.

The Washington Attorney General's Office argued that it is entitled to enforce the minimum wage law against GEO just as it's entitled to enforce it against any other company in Washington. A separate lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of detainees who have performed work in the past three years.

GEO pays detainees $1 per day for tasks such as janitorial or kitchen work. Washington's minimum wage is $11 per hour.

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