Mayor Ed Murray has a plan to finance and expand the Office of Labor Standards, Seattle’s labor law watchdog. And to the joy of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, his strategy does not include any new tax on business.
Murray will instead give the office an additional $3.6 million out of the general fund. In a press release Monday, Murray said he would double the budget of the overburdened office and expand its workforce from nine employees to 22.
Faced with the choice of finding a new revenue source or taking the money from the general fund, Murray chose the latter.
Expanding the labor office was one of two major Murray promises still without funding. The other — and still unanswered — pledge is paying for the additional 200 police officers he wants for the city.
The Office of Labor Standards is still an infant of an office. And yet the tasks of OLS are near and dear to the hearts of Seattle’s progressive elected officials: enforcing the city’s bevy of labor laws, including the $15 minimum wage, paid sick and safe time and wage theft. Its duties will only grow as the Seattle City Council looks to pile on the progressive labor rules. Stricter standards for scheduling are likely the council’s next cause.
Although the director of OLS, Dylan Orr, enjoys calling his office “small, but mighty,” it has fallen behind. “We are seeing a number of complaints filed that is significantly higher than anything we anticipated,” Murray told Crosscut in an April 13 interview. “We made a commitment to resolve those cases within 180 days and we are behind by a whole chunk. Thirty-four percent of those cases are not being closed in that timeframe. That is not good government performance.”
At the time, council central staff was analyzing the feasibility of a per employee tax (a “head tax”) on employers to pay for it. Maud Daudon, head of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, didn’t take kindly to that idea, arguing in an interview with Crosscut that the mayor should find the money in the budget.
And that’s just what he’s done.
In a statement Monday, Daudon said, “If the Council can find money in the general fund to hire additional legislative assistants and to bail out a bike-share program, it should be able to find a similar amount of money to enforce its own laws. The Mayor’s funding proposal is a clear recognition of this fact, and we strongly encourage the Seattle City Council to support it.”
So far this year, any flexibility in the budget has been taken up by efforts to combat homelessness. As of press time, the Mayor’s Office hadn’t responded to questions of what he proposed to cut to free up OLS’ funding.
Councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez and Lisa Herbold, who have taken strong interest in funding for the office, could not immediately be made available for comment.