U.S. Supreme Court will not review Seattle minimum wage law

Today the United States Supreme Court announced that it would not accept review of the unanimous decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refusing to halt full implementation of Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage law.

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court reaffirms that Seattle workers’ hard-fought raises in hourly pay will remain in effect,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “This is a great day for workers in Seattle as we look to continue to fully implement our $15 minimum wage for our largest employers by 2017 and 2021 for our smallest businesses. Our phased-in approach to raising wages, developed by labor and business working together, minimizes disruptions—especially to our small businesses which are the backbone of Seattle’s vibrant economy. I am proud that Seattle’s ground-breaking approach to addressing income inequality will continue to move forward.”

“I am pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court let the Ninth Circuit’s ruling stand and that we have prevailed at every stage of this lawsuit,” said City Attorney Pete Holmes.

The Ninth Circuit had affirmed an earlier ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Jones, denying the International Franchise Association’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

The effect of today’s decision by the Supreme Court is that Seattle’s minimum wage law can continue to be fully implemented as scheduled.

Workplace poster (English)

Workplace poster (Spanish)

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.

Murray applauds 2016 increase in Seattle’s minimum wage

Mayor Ed Murray today issued a statement applauding the latest increase in Seattle’s minimum wage during the phased-in implementation to $15 an hour:

“Tomorrow Seattle workers get another raise. When our $15 minimum wage is fully implemented, more than 100,000 workers across the city will benefit. Higher wages will help make Seattle more affordable for everyone who works in the city. Our phased-in approach, developed by labor and business working together, minimizes disruptions – especially to small businesses. I am proud that the Seattle model has been replicated in other cities across the country.”

Seattle’s minimum wage will continue to increase each year on Jan. 1, with the level of the increase dependent on the size of business and whether or not the worker receives healthcare benefits and/or tips. For more details, see the Office of Labor Standards Minimum Wage website.

Workplace poster (English)

Workplace poster (Spanish)

Mayor proposes new rules to strengthen Seattle labor laws

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray proposed a comprehensive set of amendments to Seattle’s labor standards to remedy and prevent wage theft and other labor standards violations. The legislation is aimed to better protect workers, deter and penalize bad actors while leveling the playing field for businesses that are already in compliance.

“This proposal advances our ground-breaking workers’ rights protections by ensuring the spirit and letter of these laws are upheld,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “We’re making reforms that will allow the Office of Labor Standards to better protect our workers, take meaningful actions against bad actors and allow us to help level the playing field for businesses that already are doing the right thing by paying employees their full paycheck.”

The proposed ordinance harmonizes enforcement procedures, remedies key definitions in the Minimum Wage, Administrative Wage Theft, Paid Sick and Safe Time, and Job Assistance ordinances. The Mayor’s proposal provides workers with a private right of action to pursue labor standards claims in court, increases recovery for workers by permitting up to three times the amount owed, and strengthens the Office of Labor Standard’s (OLS) ability to identify businesses that are failing to comply with labor standards requirements, such as paying below the City’s minimum wage, while also granting the Office flexibility in determining penalties to address intentional noncompliance but also ensure that genuine mistakes by employers are not unduly punished.

Additionally, the ordinance creates incentives for employers to resolve investigations quickly to ensure workers receive their owed compensation as soon as administratively possible. Taken together, the new legislation would help workers quickly recover their earned wages when violations occur and streamlines enforcement procedures for OLS, and ensure greater compliance by more employers.

“As a small business owner and early supporter of increasing the minimum wage, I applaud the Mayor’s efforts to strengthen wage theft enforcement,” said Molly Moon Neitzel, owner of Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream. “It is important that all businesses, big or small, play by the rules and pay their workers properly. The boost workers saw with the $15 minimum wage law will be wiped out unless we can enforce the promise of a living wage.

Under the proposal, employees can report wage theft and other labor violations to OLS without having their identifying information disclosed, which helps address a fear of potential retaliation to them or their colleagues. Additionally, penalties can be levied against an employer if it’s found it retaliated against employees for reporting violations.

“These amendments provide stronger incentives for employees to report labor standards violations and for employers to comply with labor standards requirements,” said Dylan Orr, the Director of the Office of Labor Standards. “The result will be increased equity and a healthy economy for everyone in Seattle.”

Research continues to show that wage theft by employers is an issue around the country. A seminal study by the National Employment Law Project found that more than two thirds of 4,387 workers surveyed in low-wage industries in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week, amounting to an average loss of 15 percent of weekly earnings. Based on this finding, potentially tens of thousands of the estimated 102,000 low-wage workers in Seattle may regularly experience wage theft.

“Seattle is making history once again by becoming the first large city to develop a comprehensive, first of its kind proposal that harmonizes and strengthens the City’s enforcement of its labor standards,” said Rebecca Smith, Deputy Director of the National Employment Law Project. “This proposal guards against workers being cheated out of their wages by bad-actor employers, ensuring they are paid the wages that they’ve earned.”

Casa Latina, a Seattle-based non-profit organization, reported filing 100 wage theft complaints with the Washington Department of Labor and Industries in an 18-month period from 2010-11, and receiving 250 calls per year from workers who said that they were not getting paid. A comprehensive study of wage theft across the state, authored by a student at UW Evans School of Public Affairs, reported that Washington State Labor and Industries closed 14,799 wage theft claims from 2009 to 2013 adding up to $46 million in claims. The average claim per worker in King County was $3,281.25.[i]

A detailed chart of the changes contained in the proposed ordinance can be found HERE. The full legislation can be found HERE.

In September of this year, Murray and OLS announced $1 million in grants for community organizations to provide outreach, education and technical assistance to Seattle’s workers about their rights under Seattle’s labor standards ordinances.

[i] Issac Sederbaum, “Wage Theft in Washington: An Examination of Labor & Industries Claims 2009-2013,” University of Washington Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, 2014.

Murray announces recipients of $1 million Community Fund to support Seattle workers

Mayor Ed Murray today announced the award of $1 million in funding from Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards (OLS) for organizations to provide outreach, education and technical assistance to Seattle’s workers about their rights under Seattle’s Minimum Wage, Wage Theft, Paid Sick and Safe Time, and Job Assistance Ordinances.

OLS has selected ten different organizations and community partnerships to receive funding. Organization activities will include door-to-door outreach, hosting community-based education events, developing training materials to educate workers and other organizations about Seattle’s labor standards, and providing labor rights intake, counseling, and referral for workers experiencing labor standards violations. Each organization and partnership will emphasize reaching out to low-wage working communities who disproportionately experience workplace violations.

“These new community partnerships will help educate workers to ensure they understand their rights and receive the wages and benefits they deserve,” said Murray. “We focus our efforts on reaching immigrant and minority communities because they are most at risk for wage theft and other abuses, and may not be well served by traditional English-language news sources.”

The organizations who will receive funding include:

  • Casa Latina and Eritrean Association – $319,000
    • Partners:
      • Entre Hermanos
      • South Park Information and Resource Center
      • South Park Neighborhood Center
      • Washington Community Action Network
      • Wage Claim Project
    • Communities of Focus: Latino, LGBTQ, East African, and youth workers
  • Coalition of Immigrants, Refugees and Communities of Color – $65,000
    • Communities of Focus: Filipino, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Khmer, and African American/black workers and at risk youth workers
  • Chinese Information and Service Center – $60,000
    • Communities of Focus: Asian Pacific Islanders, Chinese, and other Asian workers
  • Eritrean Community – $60,000
    • Communities of Focus: East African workers and small business owners
  • El Centro de la Raza – $25,000
    • Communities of Focus: Latino workers
  • Fair Work Center – $376,000
    • Partners:
      • Al Noor Islamic
      • Somali Community Services
      • NAACP
      • Latino Community Fund
      • Got Green
      • 21 Progress
      • LGBTQ Allyship
      • Puget Sound Sage
    • Communities of Focus: Asian Pacific Islander, Somali, African American, Latino, youth, and LGBTQ workers
  • Millionaire Club – $3,500
    • Communities of Focus: Workers with criminal backgrounds and temporary workers
  • NAACP – $60,000
    • Communities of Focus:  African American and African workers
  • Washington Community Action Network – $20,000
    • Communities of Focus: Membership of 30,000 comprised of low income workers of color
  • Washington Wage Claim Project – $9,500
    • Communities of Focus: Low wage workers experiencing workplace violations

“These community partnerships will dramatically strengthen our reach and impact to uphold labor standards for Seattle’s workers, most importantly among those workers most likely to experience labor standards violations – including female workers, workers of color, immigrant and refugee workers, LGBTQ workers, and youth,” said OLS Director Dylan Orr. “Announcing these awardees is a proud moment for all of us.”

For more information about the Office of Labor Standards or the Community Outreach and Education Fund, call 206-684-4500 or visit http://www.seattle.gov/laborstandards.