City Council votes to boost funding for labor standards outreach & enforcement

Unanimous 9-0 support to advance $1 million in new funding for worker outreach, two additional full-time investigators

It’s kind of a no-brainer: no one’s going to follow the rules if you don’t enforce them.
— Asher Rosebrook, Jimmy John's worker and leader with Working Washington

November 14, 2014 — Seattle City Council voted today for a package of budget changes which substantially improve enforcement of minimum wage, sick leave, wage theft, and other labor standards, by including $1 million in funding for community-based outreach to workers, and two additional full-time investigators in the Division of Labor Standards.

"It's kind of a no-brainer: no one's going to follow the rules if you don't enforce them. Making $15 an hour means that I can support myself without debt making my decisions for me. But only if we actually get $15," says Asher Rosebrook, who works at Jimmy John's and is a leader with Working Washington. "Food service workers are not always informed about the rules. So it's important that there is someone whose job it is to inform workers of their rights—especially their right to a livable wage," 

The Council’s vote today comes just days after Paseo’s abrupt closure put a spotlight on the extent of wage theft — estimated to cost workers $50 billion a year, far more than other forms of theft — and just weeks after a report by the City Auditor found that despite numerous complaints, not a single employer had been fined for violating our city’s paid sick days law.

“This is about meeting workers where they are at and doing everything we can as a city to make sure workers know their rights on the job and know how to stand up for those rights when they are being violated,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien. “Partnering with community organizations to do this outreach and education will help us reach the communities that are more likely to be victims of wage theft—such as workers in low-wage sectors of the economy, as well as immigrants and limited-English speaking workers.”

While most employers follow the law, experience shows that some simply do not. In SeaTac, two lawsuits have already been filed over failure to respect the $15 minimum wage in just the first year it has been in effect.

“Seattle workers and businesses want and deserve a level playing field for regulations,” said Council President Tim Burgess. “By moving forward Mayor Murray’s proposal to fund two investigators from 2016 to 2015, we can send a consistent signal to the small number of businesses that try to gain an advantage by ignoring our labor standards: the City will educate when we can and enforce when we must.”

City Council’s move today to add significant new funding for outreach and investigation shows they understand that passing labor standards is about more than making headlines — it’s about making a real difference in workers’ lives by ensuring these standards become a reality for every worker in every workplace in every corner of the city.

“As the $15 minimum wage rolls out, additional resources will be needed to ensure the city’s 100,000 low-wage workers know what their rights are and how to address violations,” said Sejal Parikh, Working Washington fast food campaign director. San Francisco, which has a similar number of low-wage workers, budgets $3.7 million annually for its enforcement work, according to a recent report from the National Employment Law Project.


Contact: Sage Wilson, Working Washington:

Working Washington unites workers to fight for a fair economy where everyone can support themselves, afford the basics, and contribute to the economy. We launched the fast food strikes that sparked the fight for $15 in Seattle; we helped lead the successful campaign to pass $15 in SeaTac; and we work in coalition with unions, faith groups, and grassroots organizations to hold corporations & politicians accountable to community needs.