Mayor’s budget shorts Seattle’s historic labor-law efforts, advocates say

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed legislation earlier this year to raise the city’sminimum wage to $15 an hour. Credit: City of SeattleUnder Mayor Ed Murray Seattle has passed a historic $15 minimum wage, is redoubling efforts to fight wage theft by employers and is about to become the second major city in the nation to set up a city office specifically to enforce labor laws.But as the City Council meets Thursday for its second of two public hearings on Murray’s proposed budget, worker advocates say Murray’s spending plan would undermine Seattle’s progressive labor ordinances. There’s not enough to staff the enforcement office or make sure workers know about the laws and whom to call if they are violated, critics say.And compared to the budget in the only other American city to embark on such a campaign, San Francisco, Seattle’s budget does indeed look pretty small.“The amount of money allocated was very low,” said Hilary Stern, executive director of Casa Latina and a member of a panel of advisors Murray assembled on the issue.So Thursday worker advocates will be asking the City Council to boost funding for the labor-enforcement office and for community groups such as Casa Latina that are supposed to go out into the community to make sure workers know about the $15 minimum wage and the city’s ban on wage theft.Last month a group of stakeholders appointed by Murray, including business owners, labor advocates and wage experts, finished hammering out what needed to be in the mayor’s 2015-16 budget. Known as the Labor Standards Advisory Group, these 16 people issued seven pages of recommendations for Murray and the City Council.So, what was recommended and how did that end up translating into the budget?

Region’s largest auto dealer accused of wage theft, discrimination

Many wage theft cases involve relatively small amounts of money, often promised in an oral agreement and paid in cash. Not so with a lawsuit filed against O’Brien Auto Group in King County Superior Court today, which could impact hundreds of current and former employees who allegedly were promised more than they were paid for selling cars at the company’s dealerships.The suit was brought by an immigrant from India who seeks to broaden his complaint to a class action, and who also filed a second suit Tuesday accusing O’Brien of discriminating against him because of his racial background.The O’Brien Auto Group claims to be the largest auto dealer in the Pacific Northwest, with annual sales exceeding $500 million. Repeated attempts Tuesday to reach managers of the O’Brien company for comment on the suits were unsuccessful.If true, the allegations would comport with a pattern InvestigateWest revealed in August: Employers failing to pay overtime, minimum wage or, as alleged in this case, promised commissions.The lead plaintiff in the proposed class-action suit, car salesman Ruhul Kayshel, worked at O’Brien Auto Group’s Toyota-Scion of Kirkland dealership from October 2012 to July 2014. The suits say he was fired after complaining to human resources about what he described as blatantly racist comments made by one of his supervisors.Often working as many as 84 hours a week and selling 40 cars a month, Kayshel was among the top O’Brien salesmen in the region, he says.  In the suit, Kayshel claims that Toyota-Scion of Kirkland failed to pay him as stipulated in a sales compensation plan.This is part of what Seattle attorney Stephen Teller, who specializes in discrimination and employment law, describes as a “widespread pattern of wage theft by paying salespeople smaller commissions than (O’Brien) owes them under their employment contracts.”When asked how much the dealership owed him, Kayshel was quick to respond, “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Seattle mayor: Education, then enforcement, on wage theft and sick leave

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray with Councilman Nick Licata at Monday’s press conference.Photo: City of SeattleClutching a copy of Politico lauding his leadership in passing the $15 minimum wage, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Monday proposed creating a city office to police employers who cheat employees out of their wages or sick leave.Murray’s proposed Office of Labor Standards would also crack down on employers who illegally use arrest records to guide hiring decisions. In general, the office would serve as a one-stop shop for both aggrieved workers and employers trying to ensure they comply with Seattle’s progressive labor laws, Murray said.“We must be proactive in working with business and with labor in making sure that these laws are complied with and that they are understood,” Murray said at a news conference Monday.  “My budget plan to the City Council will include new tools to help educate, and where necessary enforce, worker protection.”Murray’s announcement is based on recommendations by a city advisory committee that included business and labor representatives. The new seven-person city office would represent an increase of 5.5 city personnel devoted to the issue.  It would be housed in the Seattle Office for Civil Rights.The new office would at first focus on educating business owners and employees about their rights and responsibilities, later moving into the role of investigator and enforcer of Seattle’s wage laws.“Education will be the primary focus of this office in the near term,” said Murray. “This is not about gotcha, this is about helping folks.”