For this issue of the Ferguson File, I want to share with you four categories of service my office performs for Washingtonians that does not always get a lot of attention. This is some of the most important work we do, but it rarely makes the front pages. We focus on advancing these four goals every day, but in just the last month, we secured victories and made significant strides to:
- Promote Affordability;
- Protect Workers’ Rights;
- Enforce Military Service Members’ and Veterans’ Rights; and
- Solve Cold Cases.
Many Washingtonian are experience pain in their pocketbooks. My office fights every day for economic fairness and justice, including combating price-gouging and price-rigging that impact Washington families, and opposing unfair and unjust utility rate increases.
- I filed a lawsuit against 19 chicken manufacturers that illegally conspired to rig prices. The conspiracy impacted nearly all chicken products and harmed virtually every family in Washington. My Antitrust Division filed successful price-fixing lawsuits against foreign manufacturers of television and computer monitor screens – we won tens of millions of dollars in restitution for Washingtonians. We are also currently suing pharmaceutical companies for driving up prices of more than 100 generic drugs.
- Chicken, televisions, computers, and generic prescription drugs – virtually every Washingtonian buys these products. I’m making sure that illegal corporate conspiracies don’t make these products more expensive.
- My Public Counsel Unit is an important part of my office. Public Counsel represents the public – you – in any rate case before the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC). Regulated utilities can only increase rates with UTC approval if the increase are “fair, just, and reasonable.” We advocate for homeowners and businesses and oppose any rate increases that are not “fair, just, and reasonable.” I’ve successfully expanded my Public Counsel Unit, and together we have saved Washingtonians tens of millions of dollars on their utility bills.
- This month my office filed expert testimony opposing unfair and unjust rate increases by Puget Sound Energy and Avista.
Protecting Workers’ Rights
My office is stopping unfair and illegal non-competition and ‘no-poach’ (non-competition agreements among the franchises in a corporate chain) contracts that workers never see, but nonetheless negatively impact their mobility, opportunity, and wages.
- My office recently put a stop to illegal non-competition clauses impacting the construction industry – and we won restitution for 1,200 Washington workers. My office’s investigation into an Ohio-based staffing agency that places thousands of Washington workers found that it illegally entered into non-compete agreements with workers, which prevented the workers from finding permanent employment at the businesses where they were placed. The company illegally continued these agreements after Washington state banned non-compete agreements for low and middle-income workers. Most shocking, these workers never knew about these illegal agreements that kept them from getting opportunities with their host employers.
- Our ‘No-Poach Initiative’ increased wages across the country, according to a recent independent study. The authors determined that advertised wages increased by more than 3.3% specifically as a result of the initiative — a pay raise of $1,041.71 for workers employed by these corporations, who earn an average salary of $31,567. Collectively, the 185 franchisors examined in the study employ millions of employees, meaning the long-term, nationwide impact of the initiative likely totals in the billions of dollars, based on the new research.
Enforcing Military Service Members’ and Veteran’s Rights
Military service members and veterans fulfilled their oath and sacrificed for our freedom. They earned unique rights and protections that my office is enforcing.
- My Consumer Protection Team and I are working to reform the towing industry in Washington to stop the illegal act of selling service members’ vehicles at auction while they are on active duty. This week we announced another enforcement action of the Service Members Civil Relief Act. So far we have won tens of thousands of dollars in restitution for more than three dozen Washington service members.
- My office’s Consumer Protection Division won $1.5 million for more than 1,800 Washingtonians harmed by Harris Jewelry. Harris violated the Military Lending Act and targeted military service members with deceptive sales tactics and hidden fees. It hid the true cost of the jewelry it sold by using high mark-ups paired with fake discounts, then added hidden fees, maintenance plans and other costs to inflate the price.
Solving Cold Cases
Many local law enforcement agencies in Washington do not have the resources to invest in specialized cold cases units. My office is working to help them.
- My office recently helped solve three cold cases using forensic genealogy grants to local law enforcement. I proudly stood beside law enforcement leaders from two rural counties on opposite sides of the state to discuss multiple decades-old cold cases that we helped solve. I am in awe of the courage of survivors who waited decades for justice. We are just getting started – we are currently assisting on 20 more cold case investigations. You can watch the press conference here: https://tvw.org/video/attorney-general-bob-ferguson-press-conference-202...
- This week the Washington Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP) Task Force released its first report. I first convened this group in 2021. The Interim Report includes 10 unanimous recommendations for the next Legislative session, including the creation of a cold case unit in the Attorney General’s Office focused on MMIWP cases. I support this recommendation, and plan to introduce legislation this year to make it happen.