Local wealthy investor and lefty muse Nick Hanauer, an advocate of the "middle out" philosophy adopted by the Democratic Party and a major backer of the minimum wage movement (he contributed $1 million to this year’s winning statewide measure to increase the minimum wage), co-wrote a letter with Mary Kay Henry, the head of the Service Employees International Union, addressed to the Seattle City Council in support of a proposal that freshman city council member Lisa Herbold is trying to add in to the budget this morning.
Herbold is proposing a tiered fee tacked to business size by employee (the bigger a company, the more it pays) to create a dedicated fund to pay for the Office of Labor Standards. OLS enforces local labor law on things like wage theft and Seattle’s batch of progressive workplace rules like the $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave, and now, Seattle’s I-124, a law protecting local hotel workers from sexual harassment, which passed last week 76.61 to 23.39.
Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed budget already funds the office, and, in fact, increases funding from about $2 million a year now to about $5.2 million. However, Murray’s plan simply funds OLS out of the general fund. Herbold, identifying the logical nexus between businesses themselves and the need to regulate them, would create a new dedicated fund of about $4 million a year set to begin in 2018.
Herbold is still counting votes.
Hanaeur and Kay Henry’s letter says:
Dear Seattle City Council Members,
In November 2012, a few hundred courageous New York City fast food workers walked off the job,demanding $15 and a union. In the months following, fast food workers in dozens of other cities—including Seattle—joined them, igniting a national movement that would grow to include low-wage workers across all industries. When Seattle and Seatac voted to pass the country’s first $15 minimum wage laws, you showed workers that their aspirations were achievable, and set the stage for millions of workers in New York, California, and around the country to win a path to $15.
You have the chance to once again lead the nation by passing a labor standards fee to fund enforcement of the $15 minimum wage and other pro-worker laws. Already, other cities and states are looking to Seattle’s enforcement approach, which combines a city-run Office of Labor Standards with funding for community-based worker organizations, as a model. Now more than ever it is imperative that low wage workers, particularly women and people of color, have access to such organizations that can help them advocate for their rights at work. Passing the labor standards fee would ensure that this vital work is funded not just now but in the years to come.
The Fight for $15 movement has started to put a dent in income inequality, and has challenged the notion that the economy works from the top down. In fact, working people know that the economy works best when we build it from the middle out: when workers have more money to spend, we all do better. But if workers don’t actually receive what they are owed –if wage theft goes unchecked —then workers and our broader economy will suffer.
Working families around the country are grateful that the Seattle City Council and Mayor led the way in being the first to pass a $15 minimum wage. Please take the next step in this struggle and enact the labor standards fee to make $15 work for everyone.