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Seattle Council Member Licata Calls For New Department To Enforce Labor Laws

Ashley Gross
Seattle City Council member Nick Licata is seen talking to the media on Wednesday, April 16, 2014.

This may be the year that Seattle adopts one of the highest minimum wages in the country. But labor advocates and Seattle City Council member Nick Licata say without tough enforcement, a new wage law will be toothless. 

Five workers in the city of SeaTac recently lost their jobs after filing complaintswith the city that said they weren’t getting the new $15-an-hour minimum wage. The employer knew their names because the city sent their complaints back to him, along with a letter advising him to check whether the wage ordinance applies to his business. 

That highlights the risks of speaking up if you think your rights are being violated. 

"Workers that are most vulnerable are those that feel that they’re alone and isolated in their workplace," Licata said during a news conference outside a downtown Seattle McDonald's. 

Licata says the city needs a new office of labor standards to provide tougher enforcement of its workplace laws, including paid sick leave and an ordinance against wage theft. And he says that office needs to protect the anonymity of people who file complaints.

"Even if you have anti-retaliation laws, that’s not good enough," Licata said. "You have to have a mechanism where basically if there’s a complaint from a business, you audit that business."

Licata says he’s gotten support from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and other council members to create such an enforcement department. He says the next budget will include money for it.

Meanwhile, the labor advocacy group Working Washington says it aims to help start a nonprofit to assist workers who think their rights have been violated. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.