Victory: Stronger Protections for Wage Theft

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On December 14, 2015, the Seattle City Council approved legislation increasing the penalties and remedies for wage theft. Now, if you are not paid your full wages, you are eligible to get back three times what you are owed. I proposed this as an amendment to the minimum wage ordinance in 2014, but no other councilmember supported it at that time. I proposed it again as a Statement of Legislative Intent during the budget in 2014, and council agreed to discuss it this year. As a result of that discussion, we finally won these worker protections, thanks to the organizing efforts of the labor movement. Below is a transcript of my comments when voting on this council bill.

Thank you, Councilmember Harrell, for bringing this forward in your committee.

As has been stated, this legislation, when passed, will be very important. Unfortunately, we don’t have all of the statistics, but anecdotally, the message is very, very clear – wage theft is rampant in Seattle. My office gets contacted by constituents regularly that report wage theft, or other violations of labor law, and of their rights.

The companies that commit this crime continue to get away with it, because, if they are caught, they face little more consequence right now than having to pay the wages that they should have paid in the first place.

As Councilmember Harrell mentioned, in last year’s budget, Council passed the Statement of Legislative Intent that my office drafted asking the Mayor’s office to provide an ordinance increasing the penalties and remedies for wage theft, and I think that this legislation will successfully do that.

Workers become eligible for three times what is stolen from them, which will help those workers who may have built up debts after being underpaid their wages, and it will help also as a deterrent for unscrupulous businesses who may be repeat offenders. There will eventually be a private right of action, so workers are empowered to pursue remedies for wage theft if the Office of Labor Standards is not able to.

And, as Councilmember Licata correctly said, many workers, a whole host of workers in Seattle, will be impacted by this law. But, to make improved use of this law, workers will still need to keep getting organized, and educate each other of their rights. Moreover, we need more workers organized into unions. As a matter of fact, the effectiveness of a law like this, of legislation like this, is enhanced by increased unionization and pro-union legislation, like the bill that we just passed for app-based drivers.

I wanted to thank the labor movement for participating in the task force that reviewed the various proposals, and fighting to make sure that it had meaningful remedies and penalties. I am positive that, without those efforts, we would not have had the quality ordinance that we have in front of us today. Also, thank you to Patricia Lee and the Office of Labor Standards. And I will be vote yes on this important legislation.