On Wednesday, April 1, 2015, the City of Seattle’s historic new minimum wage law goes into effect. All employers will have to pay their employees a minimum of $11 an hour, but those employers with 500 or fewer employees can count tips and medical benefit payments to help them reach the $11 minimum wage.
What does this mean? Well, for employers and employees alike, on April 1, 2015, the Office of Labor Standards (OLS) will begin to enforce this new minimum wage. During the first year, OLS will emphasize education and compliance and, in most cases, will not seek penalties. That enforcement stance will not keep them from obtaining full payment of any unpaid wages.
I proposed the creation of the Office of Labor Standards in Fall of 2013. The Council agreed then that we should find some way to focus our labor law enforcement laws (including paid sick and safe leave, the job assistance ordinance, and the administrative wage theft ordinance). We provided some funding in the 2014 budget to explore how we could – through better compliance – increase equity and establish a fair and healthy economy for workers, businesses and residents. The Mayor then created a Labor Standards Enforcement Advisory Group who, in September last year, made the recommendations that ultimately led to the development and funding of OLS as a new division of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights.
To implement and inform workers and employers alike of the new minimum wage, OLS has taken a number of steps.
- Three public forums were held in November, leading to a public process where, together with community stakeholders, administrative rules were developed and finalized earlier this month.
- A Poster for Employees has been developed that, by law, employers must post in the workplace.
- Ads are running on Spanish language radio stations El Rey and ESPN Deportes
- Starting Monday, March 30, there will be bus sign advertising of the new requirement.
- Later next month, on April 14, 2015, OLS will host a Business Breakfast Meeting with Employers.
Though enforcement of the new minimum wage begins on April 1, the roll out of the new OLS remains a work in progress. Steps yet to be taken include:
- Hiring a permanent Executive Director
Although an Interim Director has been hired, the search for a permanent Director continues, with the search deadline to be extended.
- Labor Standards Outreach and Education Funds Dispersement
The Mayor and Council provided funding in the 2015 budget to comply with a City Auditor’s recommendation to fund work with organizations with access to difficult‐to‐reach populations, in order to get greater compliance with our labor standards. Those funds have not been awarded yet. 12-month grants are to be announced in June after a competitive Request for Proposals Process that was scheduled to begin in March and end in April. It’s unclear what the status of this timeline is now, given that the RFP has not yet gone out.
- Identification of Dedicated Revenue to Support the Operations of OLS
The OLS Budget is about $1.5 million a year for OLS staff and Contracts. San Francisco’s OLS has a ~ $4 million budget. Seattle has a similar number of low wage workers to San Francisco, yet our labor standards laws will cover far more workers than San Francisco’s. A compliance system to make sure that our City’s labor laws are enforced requires additional, and dedicated, resources.
Last year, the Council caught up with several years’ worth of missed business license inflation adjustments and increased the flat rate, 2-tiered business license fee, raising the vast majority of the $1.1 million increase in revenue from businesses with over $20,000 in revenue. I believe a new progressive business license fee is a good potential dedicated revenue stream for the Office of Labor Standards, especially given the flat rate approach Seattle currently uses in comparison to the progressive approach of other cities.
Seattle is rightfully getting a lot of national attention for leading the way on addressing income inequality. But as a recent Guardian article points out, even as leaders, we still have a long way to go. We can keep moving in the right direction by enforcing the good laws we have. If you are not getting paid the new minimum wage on Wednesday, April 1, please call 206-684-4500, or visit the Central Building, 810 Third Avenue, Suite 750, or fill out this intake questionnaire.