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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 20, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 47
Mayor wants to strengthen labor laws
Section One
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Mayor wants to strengthen labor laws

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is proposing new legislation to strengthen the city's progressive labor standards.

'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,' the Mayor's office said in a November 19 press release.

Murray's measure would strengthen Seattle's landmark Minimum Wage, Administrative Wage Theft, Paid Sick and Safe Time, and Job Assistance ordinances, including:

o giving workers a private right of action to sue employers for wrongdoing,

o increasing recovery for wronged workers up to three times the amount owed, and

o strengthening the ability of the City's Office of Labor Standards (OLS) to identify businesses that fail to comply with the City's labor laws.

The right of private action, which allows workers to seek remedies in court, was a key demand of local labor unions.

'This proposal advances our groundbreaking workers' rights protections by ensuring the spirit and letter of these laws are upheld,' Murray said.

'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 changes also create incentives for employers to resolve investigations quickly so that workers receive compensation owed to them as soon as possible. Murray said he hoped the measures would help workers quickly recover their earned wages when violations occur and ensure greater compliance by more employers.

'These amendments provide stronger incentives for employees to report labor standards violations and for employers to comply with labor standards requirements,' said OLS Director Dylan Orr. 'The result will be increased equity and a healthy economy for everyone in Seattle.'

'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.'

Research cited by the mayor's office indicates that wage theft and other pay-related violations are major issues.

A National Employment Law Project study 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% of their 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.

Casa Latina, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization, reported filing 100 wage theft complaints with the Washington Department of Labor and Industries in an 18-month period in 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.

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