In the past three years, Seattle has enacted four new citywide laws, and it’s not just the $15 minimum wage.
There’s the Job Assistance ordinance, which limits how employers can use criminal records; the Wage Theft ordinance, which offers protections when employers illegally withhold pay; and the Paid Sick and Safe Time ordinance, which ensures that employees accrue paid time off for illness.
But understanding their ins and outs, or even recognizing when an employer is violating them, can be tricky. To help workers navigate these new laws, local policy experts and community organizers created a new nonprofit called the Fair Work Center.
“It’s a one-stop shop to figure out what to do when your rights are violated at work,” said Director Nicole Vallestero Keenan.
Though the city created the Office of Labor Standards to enforce the ordinances, some members of Mayor Ed Murray’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee saw a need for more community-based support.
Staff will help workers address suspected violations and explore options — filing a complaint, connecting to legal aid or helping recover lost wages. Since launching on June 23, the staff has already helped an employee file for unemployment.
The center will also educate workers through its website and “Know Your Rights” workshops, which Keenan said will likely begin within the month.
The center’s board includes Rebecca Smith of the National Employment Law Project, David Rolf of SEIU 775, Rich Stolz of One America and Rebecca Saldana of Puget Sound Sage.
Several involved in the center helped draft Seattle’s minimum wage, which will be a high priority, especially given the incremental changes during the coming years. As of April 1, minimum wage is $11 for most workers and will increase over the next three to seven years, depending on the size of the business.
“There is likely some confusion,” Keenan said. “The dust has settled a bit, but we want to make sure people are paid the right amount.”
The center is also looking to enhance its work through technology; Keenan envisions a mobile app that would help document violations, connect workers or even track hours via GPS and compare them with pay stubs.
Keenan said she is looking forward to addressing the needs of workers in real-time and making sure Seattle’s laws become realities for employees.
“I’m excited, two years from now, to be able to look back and say ‘This many folks got their back-wages as a result of our work.’”