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How Seattle Will Enforce Its New Minimum Wage Law

KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
Sage Wilson of Working Washington keeps photos of workers on his office wall to remind him who he's working for. Wilson says it's too early to tell, but it looks like the city's doing a good job setting up tools to enforce the minimum wage.

Seattle’s new minimum wage law went into effect April 1, as did a law meant to ensure workers get paid overtime when they’ve earned it. But not everyone’s complying.

So what’s the city doing to enforce the new laws? 


Karina Bull is interim director of Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards. She’s in charge of acting when people aren’t getting paid what they’re legally entitled to. Not getting paid what you’re owed is called “wage theft.”

Bull: “There’s such a great need in Seattle to have more investigation of wage theft complaints. Wage theft is happening right now. And so I think that we may see some folks walking in through the door very quickly.”

People who want help can walk into the office of labor standards. It’s inside the city’s office of civil rights. The city will send the employer a letter asking questions. The letter does not reveal the identity of the worker. David Mendoza of the mayor’s office describes the letter.

Mendoza: “So this letter is to let the employer know we’ve received an allegation against your company. Here’s information requesting please respond within a certain number of days in order for us to find the legitimacy of this claim and resolve it, and then seek payment for the worker if that’s needed.”

If the company is found at fault, it’s asked to pay the employee what’s owed, plus 12 percent interest. The company has 20 days to comply, or the city can revoke its business license. The city will give back the business license once the worker has received the money.

Sage Wilson is happy that the ordinance has teeth like that. He’s with Working Washington, a coalition that helped pass the new Minimum Wage. Wilson says not every law comes with an enforcement mechanism.

Wilson: “It will be really interesting to see when the first cases come forward what kind of outcome they get. I know the city’s said it’s not going to issue fines except in the most egregious cases, but they are gonna make sure that people get their back pay and interest.”

The first stage of the new minimum wage law brought hourly workers’ pay up to $11 an hour. It’ll rise to $15 an hour over several years.