OLYMPIA Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law today a bill applying stricter penalties to public works contractors who violate prevailing wage laws.

Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle) sponsored Senate Bill 5035 at the request of the state attorney general to combat wage theft and delay by contractors on public works contracts, all of whom are required by state law to pay workers prevailing wages. To ensure that workers receive fair wages, the Department of Labor and Industries establishes prevailing wages for each county based on the hourly wage, usual benefits, and overtime paid in that county’s largest city to the majority of workers.

This legislation increases penalties for failing to pay prevailing wages, plus interest. Notably, this is the first increase for these penalties since 1985, according to the attorney general’s office.

The new law also extends the time period for filing prevailing wage complaints, and closes a loophole that previously allowed employers to avoid penalties by returning wages prior to any action by the state.

“Wage theft and delay of pay cause real harm to workers and their families, who are often struggling to make ends meet,” said Saldaña. “This bill will protect workers, ensure a level playing field for businesses that play by the rules and pay quality wages to workers on time, and hold accountable the bad actors who fail to do so.”

Saldaña partnered with House companion bill sponsor Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett), Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and industry stakeholders to move this legislation forward.

“This bill is about holding those responsible for wage theft accountable,” said Sells. “We give too many violators an escape route. This beefs up the enforcement, so people can expect to get the pay for which they worked.”

“This bill ensures that employers who cheat their workers out of hard-earned pay will face consequences, the same as you or I would face if we stole something,” said Ferguson.