Mayor Murray proposes expansion of labor standards outreach, enforcement

As the number of wage and benefit complaints and investigations continues to grow, and the need for additional outreach to both workers and businesses becomes more apparent, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray today proposed to double the funding for the Office of Labor Standards (OLS) by providing an additional $3.6 million in the 2017 budget.

“As the City moves forward in implementing the $15 minimum wage, enforcing our paid sick time, wage theft, and other labor standards, and educating employees and employers about their rights and responsibilities, we need additional staff and resources to achieve our goals,” said Murray. “Without additional staffing, the City cannot effectively investigate complaints and enforce the City’s labor laws. We must also expand our proactive education and outreach to both workers and businesses so that all parties understand their rights and responsibilities.”

Murray is proposing to fund the expansion of the Office of Labor Standards within existing resources from the General Fund. The mayor is not suggesting that the Council adopt new taxes or fees to expand OLS activities.

Through March of 2016, OLS has found 30 violations and completed 129 investigations that provided a total of more than $240,000 in employee remedies.

Caseloads in the Office of Labor Standards have grown significantly. Currently, OLS has approximately 150 open investigations involving 106 employers. The number of open investigations has grown by 33 percent since the beginning of the year.

As caseloads have increased, the length of time between when a complaint is filed and investigations are completed have also grown. The time to complete investigations has grown from an average of 116 days in August 2015 to 188 days in March 2016.

To manage growing workloads, the mayor is proposing to grow OLS from 9 employees to 22.

The Office will also manage a larger outreach budget, with $1.5 million dedicated to education and support of employees, and $800,000 for outreach to local employers.

The City of Seattle is estimated to have over 500,000 employees and 60,000 businesses. The City’s enforcement of labor laws is largely complaint driven, and without knowledge of their rights under the new regulations, employees will not be in a position to identify violations.

At the same time, employers cannot come into compliance if they do not understand what is required of them, and the practical implications of sometimes complex City ordinances.

The mayor is also proposing that the Office of Labor Standards be established as a fully independent office, separate from the Office for Civil Rights in which it is currently housed.