Delivering $15: Community-Centered Wage and Hour Enforcement in Seattle

Source: Diego Rondón Ichikawa, Rebecca Smith, National Employment Law Project, October 2014

…This report, based on data and enforcement models from Washington State and around the country, is intended to present a vision of an efficient, strategic enforcement plan that compensates workers for wage violations and ensures a level playing field and fair competition for businesses that comply with the law. It is intended to supplement, not supplant, the excellent work of the Mayor’s Labor Standards Advisory Group, which developed the outlines of an enforcement strategy, anchored in the new Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE).

Building on this outline and learning from the experience of other jurisdictions and from experts who have studied minimum wage enforcement, Seattle can create a fair, strategic, and realistic enforcement system that ensures that workers are not cheated out of the city’s promise of an increased minimum wage. That system should include at least four parts: (1) a robust worker and employer education program; (2) an efficient and strategic enforcement plan that employs a combination of complaint-driven and agency-directed investigations to restore minimum wages to all affected workers in a company and protect law-abiding businesses; (3) penalties and compensation that meaningfully protect workers from retaliation, deter violations, and enlist the help of the private bar; and (4) strong partnerships that take advantage of the best skills of government and of community organizations.

While Seattle’s DLSE will enforce its Paid Sick and Safe Time, Job Assistance, Wage Theft and Minimum Wage Ordinances, this paper focuses on the Minimum Wage Ordinance as the newest and most complex of the city’s labor standards….

Key findings:
· Violation of wage laws is a huge national problem.
· Existing resources are not up to the task.
· Seattle’s enforcement strategy should include both complaint-based and agency-initiated directed investigations.
· The city should draw on the experience and trust of community groups for smart enforcement.
· Seattle needs additional enforcement tools to be effective.