Letter to the editor: SAM supports new overtime rules, but these aren't sustainable

Seattle Art Museum's director argues that WA's overtime proposal is long overdue. Here's how to make it less burdensome on nonprofits.

Art-goers at SAM

Installation view of 'Jeffrey Gibson: Like A Hammer' at Seattle Art Museum, 2019, (Photo by Natali Wiseman courtesy of SAM)

The Washington state Department of Labor & Industries has proposed changes to the state’s obsolete overtime rules. There has been some confusion about the Seattle Art Museum’s response to these proposed changes. SAM supports Washington workers, and we would like to clarify our position.

SAM supports this rule change and feels it’s long overdue for Washington workers. In fact, in 2016 we implemented proposed (but never finalized) federal changes because we knew it was the right thing to do. At that time, we raised the minimum salary for exempt status for all SAM employees to $47,500 per year ($913 per week), well over the what was then the federal limit of $23,660.

As the leading visual arts institution in the Pacific Northwest, we take seriously our mission to connect art to life. It is the work of our talented, engaged and dedicated staff that makes this happen, day in and day out. The people who work here really want to be here; part of that is passion for our mission and our workplace culture, and we know that compensation is also incredibly important.

SAM constantly strives to manage expenses and provide equitable access to our three sites and our dynamic programming. It’s important to us to offer many opportunities for free or discounted admission and to maintain our extensive lineup of programs for adults, families and youth, many of which are also free. We can balance all of these needs when major institutional adjustments can be made thoughtfully.

Related: Why are Seattle's prominent nonprofits opposing a new overtime proposal?

We support raising the minimum salary for exempt status employees in Washington. What we suggest is a slower ramp-up (rates that change every three to five years, rather than annually) that’s responsible and sustainable for us and our fellow cultural nonprofit organizations to administer. A slower ramp-up would enable us to make plans for maintaining our total compensation packages, including many crucial benefits valued by our employees. It would also help us preserve the current level of our community-focused programming. Our ultimate goal is always to continue to meet the needs of our staff while fulfilling our mission of serving the community. We are most successful when we have time to plan.

Every year, SAM reaches nearly 900,000 visitors from all over the world — including adults, youth and their families, and Seattle-area students — with vibrant programming and exhibitions across its three locations. We can do this thanks to our staff’s efforts and to the broad financial support we receive from the whole community, including from our 32,500 SAM member households and our many donors, whose contributions start at just a few dollars. We are thankful for each one. Less than 1% of SAM’s revenue comes from government funding, so we rely on the community we serve to help fulfill our educational and public service mission.

We support Washington workers and we support changes to the state’s overtime rules. We encourage Washington state to implement these long overdue changes with a plan that is responsive to the specific challenges faced by non-profit organizations. If done well, these changes will benefit our amazing staff and by extension, the entire community.

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About the Authors & Contributors

Kimerly Rorschach

Kimerly Rorschach

Kimerly Rorschach has been the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO of the Seattle Art Museum since November 2012.