Mayor proposes new Office of Labor Standards for education, enforcement on city wage and benefit rules

Seattle continues to capture the nation’s attention with its progressive policies on wages and benefits. Now Mayor Ed Murray is proposing an expanded proactive effort to educate workers and businesses on their rights and responsibilities under the law, as well as a centralized approach to investigate and enforce the City’s higher minimum wage, paid sick leave and other worker protections.

“Taken together, these remarkable advancements are a statement about Seattle’s leadership role on these issues,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “Now we must educate our workers and businesses on how to comply with these new workplace standards. And when necessary, we must be ready to investigate complaints and enforce the law.”

The mayor’s proposal announced today includes the establishment of the Office of Labor Standards, which will provide a one-stop shop for workers and businesses seeking information on implementing the new requirements. The office will focus in the near term on educating the community on the new minimum wage rules. It will work with community based organizations to help reach lower-income and immigrant populations who are most vulnerable to violations.

“Passing fair labor standard laws is only half the solution to improving the working conditions of employees in Seattle; a city-designated office tasked with educating the public and enforcing the law is the other half,” said Councilmember Nick Licata. “I look forward to working with the Mayor, my Council colleagues and the broader community to see that one is established, and effective in its mission.”

The new office will build on the current work by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, and will be housed in that agency. In the past year, the Office for Civil Rights has resolved 207 of 237 enforcement actions stemming from violations of the Paid Sick and Safe Time and the Job Assistance Ordinance. So far this year, the Office for Civil Rights has provided free technical assistance to 487 employers, and spoke with 227 employees about possible labor standards violations.

Seattle adopted the Paid Sick and Safe Time ordinance in 2011, followed in 2013 by the Job Assistance Ordinance that limits the use of arrest and conviction records in hiring decisions. In June, Seattle adopted the highest minimum wage in the country, which begins to phase in $15 an hour starting in April 2015.

Mayor Murray today proposed an ordinance that would authorize the new Office of Labor Standards to investigate and pursue administrative enforcement actions when wage-theft complaints are made by workers, with the aim of restoring any back wages and benefits they earned but were unpaid.  This would serve as an additional tool to the criminal wage-theft law passed by Seattle City Council in 2011.

The mayor’s Office of Labor Standards proposal was developed with input from his Labor Standards Advisory Group made up of representatives from business associations, labor unions and advocates, and community groups from across the city. The group has been meeting for months to provide recommendations that were vital to shaping this proposal.

“Every worker is entitled to be paid for the work that they do,” said Teresa Mosqueda, Government Affairs Director, Washington State Labor Council. “The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO applauds the creation of a new cabinet-level Office of Labor Standards that has the authority and resources to make sure that labor standards are enforced and values the role of community organizations in educating workers about their rights.”

“This is an important issue,” said George Allen, Sr. Vice President, Seattle Chamber of Commerce. “The process allowed the advisory group to arrive at recommendations that strike a good balance between the needs of Seattle’s employers and employees. This is a new way of decision-making and it works.”

“The new Office of Labor Standards is a key element in Seattle’s exciting progress to protect worker rights,” said Dave Freiboth, Executive Secretary, M.L. King County Labor Council. “This effort complements the significant work already accomplished providing for paid sick leave and cracking down on wage theft. Seattle truly represents ‘best practices’ in terms of employment conditions for working families.”

“The Greater Seattle Business Association and allied businesses were grateful for the opportunity to help shape how the City will implement and enforce its labor standards ordinances,” said Mona Smith, Public Affairs Chair of GSBA. “We support the Mayor’s choice to establish an Office of Labor Standards within the Office of Civil Rights. GSBA’s experience with the Office of Civil Rights implementation of the paid sick and safe leave and job assistance ordinances has been positive and our collaborative engagement with OCR on other labor standard issues has benefited our small business and LGBT members. We have every confidence that with Mayor Murray’s leadership this will continue.”

The Office of Labor Standards would have a budget of $511,000 in 2015 and $660,000 in 2016. The director of the office will report to the mayor. By 2016, the office will house 7 employees. There will be 5.5 new positions in addition to the 1.5 positions currently working on these issues at the Office of Civil Rights.  The new office will also receive administrative and policy support from the Office of Civil Rights. Funding for the office would come from the City’s general fund.

The mayor’s proposal will now go to the Seattle City Council as part of the budget he will submit on Sept. 22nd.