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Candidate Survey Results: Question 3; Minimum Wage & Wage Theft

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These are the responses to question 3 of our candidate survey. See here for responses to questions 1 and 2.

Question 3: How do you plan to use the city’s regulatory capacity to enforce recent minimum wage gains and prevent wage theft by employers? What do you think the minimum wage should be?

Mayor

Mike McGinn, Mayor

I support expanding resources for Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards to improve education and enforcement of Seattle’s minimum wage laws. Wage theft is a serious issue, particularly for undocumented workers who are fearful of approaching government employees or the courts for support. I would work to ensure that city government works closely with employers and worker advocates to identify and end wage theft wherever it is found.

One example of my work to combat wage theft as mayor was an investigation we launched into wage theft allegations on affordable housing projects funded by the City. Details of that investigation may be found online here.

I supported Seattle’s recent minimum wage increase. Now our focus must be on reducing the cost of living for minimum wage workers by addressing the housing shortage, reducing other living costs such as transportation and health care, and replacing regressive taxes with more progressive options. Paid family and medical leave and secure scheduling will also help the financial security of lower income workers.

The new minimum wage is still being fully phased in, and will be adjusted for inflation going forward. Once phased in, we should examine how it’s working based on Seattle’s cost of living and the economy.

Nikkita Oliver, Mayor

Wage theft is something that The Peoples Party feels strongly about as it disproportionately affects the economically vulnerable who are, primarily, people of color, women and immigrants. It obviously happens in a variety of ways—from mislabeling employees as “contractors,” to simply paying less than the minimum wage. The City’s regulatory authority is not and would not be the primary agency charged with making sure that employers are not engaged in theft—that duty falls upon the US Department of Labor. The DOL’s Department of Wage and Labor has less than 1500 investigators for the US’s 135 million workers, so it fair to say that the DOL is understaffed. Under a Trump Administration and given Trump’s history of deregulation and allowing corporations to get away with egregious crimes, I suspect that the DOL will be investigating even fewer underpayment cases.

However, the City established the Division of Labor Standards to enforce the new minimum wage. The authority of that agency, since the federal government has largely preempted local authority in regards to labor, still remains to be seen. However, the City can absolutely perform a level of investigation and set up a “whistle blower” service that can encourage DOL involvement in cases. Moreover, the City can fund non­profit organizations to educate workers about their rights and to report alleged violations to the City.

Regarding the minimum wage, The Peoples Party supports the $15 dollar minimum wage with exemptions for small businesses. It is crucial for small and local businesses to be able to stay open and a $15 requirement for small and local businesses has the effect of being a regressive tax on those small businesses. The City currently defines “small employers” as less than 500 employees—that is likely too expansive a definition. We would reduce that definition by half and require employers with less than 250 employees to reach 15 within 7 years and those with more (locally or nationally) must be at 15 within 3 years.

Jason Roberts, Mayor

I agree with recent the recent wage increase to $15 per hour. In regards to wage theft, The Wage Theft Ordinance of 2015 is lacking in enforcement. The burden of proof is too high on the employee and creates too many barriers against reporting. I have personally been involved in cases where my wage has been changed, I was paid the wrong amount, or my hours were incorrectly documented. The process of reporting and investigating can take many weeks and employers can dodge and ignore requests for information. The cases must be expedited. Failure to respond on time should result in penalties or even awarding the claim to the employee. Conversely, false reporting or intentional misrepresentation of the facts on the part of the claimant, should also be punished. My staff would include a Small Business Director who would work with the Office of Labor Standards on such matters. This director would also be a resource for small businesses and workers, educating them on their rights and responsibilities.

Casey Carlisle, Mayor

The unintended consequence of Seattle’s minimum wage is that low-paying job growth has been crushed; Seattle has become the national example not to follow, which is one of the reasons why Baltimore’s Democratic mayor recently vetoed $15/hour as its minimum wage. With a minimum wage, employers aren’t willing to take a risk on hiring someone they feel might not be adequate for the job, which fuels the “academia-industrial” complex – hiring those with advanced degrees despite the work not requiring them. It would be great to be able to hire those in the government-induced homeless population – as a way to reduce homelessness – but the minimum wage essentially outlaws employers from doing so. Seattleites voted in favor of the current minimum wage, so if employers are not paying their employees what is required by law, the City already has ways to deal with employers who are breaking the law; no need to create another bureaucracy.

Keith Whiteman, Mayor

Why would the recent gains in minimum wage need to be enforced? I would hope that all businesses that wish to operate in Seattle abide by the rules and regulations set up within the timeline of the $15 minimum wage. I know that those who are affected by wage theft by employers are those who are least likely to speak up and make their presence and their problems be known. I wish, much like the benefits of being a “sanctuary city”, we make the problems of wage theft and wage abuse a whistleblower like entity where they can feel comfortable speaking up without retribution. I am a fan of empowering the workers of the city. Businesses need the community more than the community needs businesses.

It’s odd, because, from my perspective, the companies that make the most money off of
the most basic labor pay the least to their employees. Which to be honest, should be opposite.

What should the minimum wage be? I don’t know. I moved out here in 2005 and I was making $4.25 an hour in VA, just slightly above minimum wage. But, my rent was also $200 a month. If labor unions and those representing the minimum wage employees are fine with $15 an hour. I know when I was making $17 an hour a few years ago, as a single person with no dependents, I was able to afford my $575 shared housing rent and bills, live decently, pay car insurance and gas. Now add two kids and soaring rents to that equation and I can’t see how $15 is a living wage in Seattle, but I think there are other options to explore which would help the underemployed population in Seattle rather than just raising minimum wage. Issues I certainly wish to explore.

Harley Lever, Mayor 

Lever’s position is indeterminate.

Mary Juanita Martin, Mayor

Martin’s position is indeterminate.

Cary Moon, Mayor

Since Seattle passed a $15 minimum wage in 2014, we’ve seen that workers are getting better pay and businesses are still thriving. However, we all know that we still have a long way to go to address income disparities and raising the minimum wage was  just the first step. Thousands of workers find that while their pay may increase, they cannot work enough hours to make ends meet. In most cases, this is not for lack of wanting additional hours. Moreover, low-wage workers’ schedules are often erratic and unpredictable, making it impossible to work a second job. Many employers only give workers 3 days’ notice of their upcoming schedule. Last fall, Seattle became the second major U.S. city to pass a secure scheduling ordinance. We need to ensure that we are providing stable and sufficient funding for enforcement of these new landmark labor standards, and penalize businesses that refuse to play by the rules protecting their workers. We need to promptly and tenaciously enforce all the worker protections we have put in place.

Beyond ensuring lower wage workers have secure and stable ground to stand on, we also need to protect and nurture a productive local economy that generates wealth and keeps it circulating locally, in communities. I will establish a vision and principles, together with business and community leaders, to rebuild a 21st century industrial economy in Seattle: green, sustainable, equitable, and innovative. We need an economic development strategy that lays out a path to industrial job expansion, growth in clean energy sector, a targeted plan for small business / community based business protection, a plan to bridge tech kids to local tech jobs, and a plan for broader access to entrepreneurship — especially for women, immigrant communities and communities of color. We need a clear action plan to get there, and report back on progress.

We can’t passively sit by as big businesses and commercial property speculators extract wealth from our communities and impoverish us all. Instead, we must establish an assertive strategic plan for our growth in order to ensure that every young person has access to a ladder to success, despite their zipcode; every newcomer has access to housing they can afford and transit to get to work; every entrepreneur has access to technical assistance and the tools (wifi, access to capital) they need, regardless of race or ethnicity. We must ensure the voices of workers, of young people, and of those in low and middle income jobs are heard loud and clear, to ensure our growth benefits them too. We are at risk of becoming a city of haves and have nots, and a strong economic development plan –with targeted solutions for communities left furthest behind — is an essential framework to ensure we keep family wage jobs and access to success for everyone.

Alex Tsimerman, Mayor

Tsimerman’s position is indeterminate.

David Ishii, Mayor

Ishii’s position is indeterminate.

Bob Hasegawa, Mayor

Hasegawa has voted for paid leave and higher minimum wages, but only for particular employers.

Jenny Durkan, Mayor

Durkan’s position is indeterminate; however, the law firm where she’s employed has represented McDonald’s in wage and hour violation suits.

Jessyn Farrell, Mayor

In 2014, Farrell introduced a statewide bill that would’ve increased the Washington state minimum wage to $12.

Michael Harris, Mayor

Harris’ position is indeterminate.


City Council

Jon Grant, Pos. 8

Last year, I served as Outreach Director for Initiative 1433 to raise the statewide minimum wage and pass paid sick and safe leave. I collaborated with labor activists, workers and volunteers to win higher wages for 730,000 Washingtonians and expand sick and safe leave to 1 million workers in the state.
I strongly support our $15 minimum wage alongside robust enforcement of wage laws. Unfortunately, we know that even with the new wage levels workers will struggle. I believe workers should earn a living wage, and support increasing wages further since the average Seattle worker would need to earn $29/hour to afford an average two bedroom apartment.

We need a fully funded Office of Labor Standards (OLS) to proactively enforce Seattle’s $15 minimum wage increase. Last year, the OLS completed their first full investigation, resulting in a multi-million dollar settlement. However, its small staff (just four investigators) and limited resources prevented the investigation from being completed in a timely fashion. Currently, it takes the city an average of 212 days to investigate violations of minimum wage laws. The City of Seattle recently decided to dedicate general funds to OLS, but I believe the private sector should bear the cost of enforcing its own regulations and not the general public. I support increasing the budget for OLS to $5.8 million, which would expand the office to 22 full time employees.

In my first year in office I would introduce a proposal to charge businesses a penny per hour worked per employee to fully fund the Office of Labor Standards (OLS). Without robust enforcement our labor laws are not worth the paper they are printed on. A study found that as much as 60% of Seattle workers did not understand how the municipal minimum wage laws applied to them, and that about half of employees surveyed did not even know about their paid sick & safe leave rights at all. The financial burden for following and enforcing the law must be borne by the industries that are responsible for complying with the law in the first place.

I would also increase the grant funding for community based organizations with outreach and education expertise to workers. Organizations like the Fair Work Center are critical to educating workers on their rights, and we must also expand support for organizations like LGBTQ Allyship and others that specialize in reaching historically marginalized groups that face unique challenges in workplace discrimination and retaliation.

Sheley Secrest, Pos. 8

As stated, I was a policy analyst for the Alliance for a Just Society and I helped to organize the fast food workers strikes nationwide. We actually planned the strikes as the opening to the $15 an hour fight. Then it was a matter of pushing public opinion. But, I actually think that we need to get to a higher minimum wage. $20 is a better start. As far and enforcement, I was on the City of Seattle Office of Professional Accountability working on public complaints against the SPD. At one point, I brought in the US Department of Justice in order to finally get the consent decree. I am capable of brining the same energy and determination, and connections, to stop wage theft.

Charlene Strong, Pos. 8

I support a minimum wage of $15 per hour. The cost of living in this city is increasing in ways that are straining budgets and it appears there is no relief in site. Our state does have oversight and compliance. The Seattle Office of Civil Rights and the Washington State Human Rights Commission are tasked with ensuring the protection of employee’s rights and investigate issues between employees and their employers. I strongly believe that education is paramount for employees, and with the help of the Seattle Office of Civil Rights it would be possible to implement an educational program to make sure workers are fully informed of their rights.leave.

Ryan Asbert, Pos. 8

People definitely aren’t getting paid enough, but unfortunately there isn’t a simple solution to this problem. I agree in general with a higher living wage, but I feel that we need to explore solutions beyond just the minimum wage to foster a healthier and better paid work force. We need to encourage employers to pay their employees a better salary, and while the means of accomplishing this may be difficult to ascertain, we intend to be creative and listen to the input of Seattle employees and employers to find ways to equalize the wage gap.

Sara Nelson, Pos. 8

At Fremont Brewing, our priority is taking care of our employees who are the heart, soul, and talent of the company. They make well above minimum wage in addition to receiving excellent retirement, health, and transit benefits. I will support the work of the Office of Labor Standards, the enforcement agency of Seattle’s labor regulations to enforce recent minimum wage gains and prevent wage theft by employers. I will encourage OLS to provide equal outreach and education to employers and employees to ensure compliance with new regulations because preventing violations is much more efficient than investigating them.

Hisam Goueli, Pos. 8

Goueli’s position is indeterminate.

Mac McGregor, Pos. 8

McGregor supports the $15 minimum wage.

Teresa Mosqueda, Pos. 8

I sat at the table to develop the Office of Labor Standards enforcement recommendations; I have chaired the state’s Stop Wage Theft Coalition; I have fought against wage theft, misclassification, retaliation, and fought for wage recovery legislation; I helped to draft the language in the minimum wage and sick leave legislation (for 4 years) then ultimately the state initiative (I-1433) to push for greater enforcement standards at our state level and prevention from retaliation and wage theft. I will continue the fight against wage theft, and prevent employers from undermining workers and driving down wages in the labor market by paying workers less than they are owed. I will fight side by side with you to make sure that we fight wage theft and misclassification of all workers.

We must use every policy tool at our disposal to combat wage theft and defend recent minimum wage and employment standards. That means protecting and enhancing our partnerships with community organizations who can be the trusted voice in community and in work sites to initiate wage theft investigations. We must insist on strict adherence to prevailing wage and responsible bidder laws for all city contracts, because the city contracts ought to have a higher value on our public investments. We must do everything we can to empower workers and defend their right to organize and bargain collectively – giving workers a voice in the workplace and standing up for their rights is on of the best ways to defend workers is to give them the tools to fight wage theft and misclassification.

Had the minimum wage been raised since 1968 at the same rate as growth in productivity—i.e., the rate at which the average worker can produce income for her employer from each hour of work—it would be at least $18.50 per hour. – EPI, 2015

Rudy Pantoja, Pos. 8

Pantoja’s position is indeterminate.

Ian Affleck-Asch, Pos. 9

Updated May 16 with candidate responses

I plan -if elected- to bring the regulations to bear on offenders of wage theft and to protect a fair working wage for all persons of Seattle. My plan would include citizen reporting and formation of investigatory committees. I believe that although our new minimum wage puts us ahead of many other parts of Washington, we must aid other impoverished workers in any city, any county, any state, any country. We have a duty to humanity to fight against excessive economic stratification, and bring equity to all. I think our minimum wage is fine, all things aside.

Lorena González, Pos. 9

Prior to being a city councilmember, González was a lawyer. In a 2016 letter to the Amazon Director of Global Real Estate and Facilities, she requested the company reevaluate their relationship with a subcontractor who had been breaking labor laws, including wage theft.

David Preston, Pos. 9

Preston’s position is indeterminate.

Marguerite Richard, Pos. 9

Richard’s position is indeterminate.

Eric Smiley, Pos. 9

Smiley’s position is indeterminate.

Pat Murakami, Pos. 9

Murakami’s position is indeterminate.

Amanda Carter, Pos. 9

Carter’s position is indeterminate.

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